Engineers at Bristol University in the U.K. have created plastic technologies that could one-day lead to the development of airplanes that can literally fix themselves while they are still in the air.
Interestingly, the British engineers were inspired by human biology; their plastic technology emulates the healing process in living organisms.
The self-healing plastics have micro tubes of epoxy resin embedded inside fiber-reinforced polymers. When a plane stretches and cracks, the resin in these tiny tubes oozes out, hardens, and patches the crack.
Because most of the wear and tear on airplanes is too small to be perceptible to the human eye, the Bristol engineers also dyed the resin with an ultraviolet pigment. To determine if or where the plane has healed itself, mechanical crews simply turn on the black lights, find the patches and perform a more permanent fix.