Boeing’s New Microlattice, Now the Lightest “Metal” Ever

Mr McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr McGuire: Plastics.

You may recognize the above dialog from the movie “The Graduate” starring a young [Dustin Hoffman], whose character is getting advice about what line of work he should get into after university. Maybe Mr McGuire’s advice should have been “Microlattice.”

If you take a step back for a moment and survey the state of materials, you’ll see that not much has changed in the last 50 years. We’re still building homes out of dead trees, and most cars are still made out of iron(although that is starting to change.) It’s only been just recently has there been advances in batteries technology – and that only came about with the force of a trillion-dollar mobile phone industry behind it. So we’re excited by any new advance we see, and Boeing’s new “Microlattice” tickles our fancy.

Boeing isn’t giving away the recipe just yet, but here is what we know: it’s 99.99% empty space, making it extremely light. It’s so light, that if you drop it, it floats to the ground. It’s also compressible, giving it the ability to absorb energy and spring back (you can see it in action in the after the break.) It’s made by creating a sacrificial skeletal structure the shape of the final lattice, then coating that template with nickel-phosphorus alloy. The temporary inner structure is then etched away, leaving a “microlattice” of tiny interconnected hollow rods with wall thickness of about 100 nanometers. Of course it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out why Boeing is interested in such materials, they are eye it as an extremely lightweight building material for planes and spacecraft.

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Boeing 777 from Manilla Folders, A 6+ Year Effort

The closer you look the more you will be in awe of this shockingly intricate 777 replica. The fully-articulating landing gear alone has over 2,000 parts and 200 hours of assembly, not even including the penny-sized tires with individually-cut lug nuts. All carved from manilla office folders by hand.

HAD - 777 WingA high school art architecture class in 2008 inspired this build by teaching a few papercrafting techniques. When [Luca] got a hold of a precision Air India 777-300ER schematic, he started building this 5 foot long 1:60 scale model. His project has received a fair amount of media attention over the years, including some false reports that he was so focused on the build that he dropped out of college (he did, for 2 years, but for other reasons). 6.5 years in the making, [Luca] is rounding the homestretch.

HAD - 777 GearThe design is manually drawn in Illustrator from the schematics, then is printed directly onto the manilla folders. Wielding an X-acto knife like a watch-maker, [Luca] cuts all the segments out and places them with whispers of glue. Pistons. Axles. Clamps. Tie rods. Brackets. Even pneumatic hoses – fractions of a toothpick thin – are run to their proper locations. A mesh behind the engine was latticed manually from of hundreds of strands. If that was not enough, it all moves and works exactly as it does on the real thing.

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Retrotechtacular: Supersonic Transport Initiatives

In the early days of PBS member station WGBH-Boston, they in conjunction with MIT produced a program called Science Reporter. The program’s aim was explaining modern technological advances to a wide audience through the use of interviews and demonstrations. This week, we have a 1966 episode called “Ticket Through the Sound Barrier”, which outlines the then-current state of supersonic transport (SST) initiatives being undertaken by NASA.

MIT reporter and basso profondo [John Fitch] opens the program at NASA’s Ames research center. Here, he outlines the three major considerations of the SST initiative. First, the aluminium typically used in subsonic aircraft fuselage cannot withstand the extreme temperatures caused by air friction at supersonic speeds. Although the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was skinned in aluminium, it was limited to Mach 2.02 because of heating issues. In place of aluminium, a titanium alloy with a melting point of 3,000°F is being developed and tested.

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How to properly dispose of fruitcake

While doing serious fruitcake research, (no, really) we stumbled across the Great Fruitcake Toss held every January in Colorado. The particular entry above caught our eye. Omega 380 was built by a group of Boeing engineers and currently holds the distance record of 1,420feet. It’s a large compressed air cannon. All pressure is human generated using an exercise bike turning a pump. Apparently the team’s first contest entry was a classic surgical tubing slingshot. It eventually broke down during a very cold year, so they switched to this newer design. You can see more videos on the Operation Fruitcake blog.