What do sharks and planes have in common? Aside from the fact that a flying shark would be totally awesome, not all that much. But, clever researchers at Fraunhofer in Germany have determined in that one of the only areas where they overlap– the ability to move quickly and efficiently through their environment – the shark is totally kicking ass. By paying homage to one of nature's most cool-guy animals in paint form, scientists hope to up the airplane's game.
According to a recent press release by German innovations company Fraunhofer, Dr. Volkmar Stenzel, Yvonne Wilke and Manfred Peschka did some shark looking, some serious shark-realted thinking, and then started making paint. Initially, we're sure people were a little concerned that they were hanging out in a room filled with paint fumes all day, and that they might need counselling more than a research grant.
Fraunhofer Scientists: Inventing Things!
But it turns out that they were on to something.
The kiss of death for airplanes is drag. The more resistance that passing air has on a plane, the greater its fuel consumption and the slower it will fly. Sharks don't have this problem. Not only are they fueled by the corpses of their enemies, eliminating the need for "gasoline", they've got a sweet system for cutting through the water at a breakneck pace. Turns out, sharkskin is structured in a very specific way that includes denticles, which are tiny ridges in the skin's surface that act like miniature scales. These denticles are able to not only prevent sea-crap from sticking to the shark's sleek outer hull, but also allow him to move around more quickly.
By combining the concept of sharkskin with specialized nanoparticles that can withstand heat, radiation and mechanical stress, the Fraunhofer team was able to develop a line of paint that mimicked the badassery of the shark. This paint is applied via a stencil rather than a typical paintbrush to achieve the ridge dentricle structure, but adds no extra weight to the plane while substantially improving its ability to straighten up and fly right.
Early testing with the paint indicates that it could save a significant amount of plane fuel if applied to every jet in the world – in the order of 4.48 million tons. As well, the paint has demonstrated the ability to reduce ship drag by up to 5% and is also being considered for use in wind farms to lower the effects of air resistance on the spinning blades.
This paint is just gearing up for commercial use, so we'll have to wait and see what kind of success it brings. While we're sure that even a significant fuel cost cutting won't offset our massively unfair airline ticket prices, we do hope that they offer the paint in colors like "Tigershark" and "Great White".
Sharks. Gotta love 'em.