Science Of Self-Repairing Fighter Jets: How Do They Work?

You have undoubtedly seen airplanes doing all sorts of incredible things in movies; making spectacular shapes in the air with colored smoke, maneuvering seemingly impossible flips with other aircraft, and even outrunning aliens spaceships, but that’s just in the movies! And when those planes get hit by enemy fire or try to manage a difficult landing, the outcome can be catastrophic. However, one thing you probably haven’t seen is an aircraft repairing itself automatically in midair.

Welcome to the future, folks… as it turns out, this is something that will be a reality very soon.

What’s more, these types of airplanes will be an important part of aerial warfare in only a decade or two – maybe even sooner! When it comes to military advancements and increasing safety, money never seems to be an object!

Figher Jets (4)

Becoming a Reality

Scientists at BAE Systems (a UK-based company) have come up with a feasible design for this futuristic machine, which will revolutionize the entire aviation sector.

As they age, airplanes tend to develop small cracks and holes on their surface. Needless to say, these are bad for the functionality and safety of the aircraft, and thus for the people flying it. During routine checks, mechanics are able to spot these holes and fix them, but finding these problems after the fact is not nearly as good as airplanes fixing these issues themselves, as soon as they are detected.

As the saying goes, ‘the wearer knows where the shoes pinch’, and the airplane is basically “the wearer” in this situation. Thanks to the plane’s internal scanning of its surface skin, it will be in a much better position to ascertain the areas where it is hurt and requires repairs.

How Does It Work?

This whole concept is founded on microsensor technology. The body of the aircraft will be covered with thousands of microsensors that would detect wind speed, temperature, and any damages sustained on the surface in real-time. Researchers at the Engineering and Sciences Research Council are in the process of developing certain materials that would bring this self-repair idea from a futuristic dream into a marketable reality.

Figher Jets (2)

The self-repair would be facilitated by a grid of carbon nanotubes placed around the aircraft’s body that would hold a lightweight adhesive fluid. As soon as the sensors on the airplane detected a crack or a hole (or any other damage on the surface) this fluid would be released to the affected area, which would form a hardened cover over the damage, much like a ‘scab’ that forms over human skin when it sustains an external wound.

Performance of the Repaired Airplanes

After the fluid is delivered to the damaged area and the adhesive has plugged/repaired the damage, the surface will have approximately 90% of its original strength. This will not only help in surviving any further bullet fire from hostile parties, but will also ensure the continuation of flight and help the aircraft accomplish its tasked mission.

Figher Jets (3)

Next-generation fighter jets will benefit a lot from this technology

The most obvious advantage of this technology would be in aerial warfare in the coming decades, as it would provide a competitive edge over traditional fighter jets. Apart from that, this self-repair technology also has applications in rescue and relief operations, and in containing internal threats within a country.

Can you guess what the people at BAE Systems are calling their cutting-edge development?

The Survivor. Top marks to them for picking a great name!

The Real Transformer

Beyond self-repairing airplanes, these brilliant researchers also have another airplane that deserves its super-cool name – The Transformer. This plane would be able to take in (or combine with) smaller airplanes (of a similar design) inside the main plane’s body while traveling before splitting up later!

Split in three

Split in three

This brand-new airplane can be bound together while taking off, but can easily ‘unbind’ themselves from the mother aircraft once airborne. In a practical application, the enemy might see 10 airplanes approaching on the radar, but suddenly they would end up dealing with 30.

Reality is beginning to look more and more like a sci-fi action thriller every single day!


  1. Air & Space Magazine
  2. Cable News Network (CNN)
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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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