Throughout the storied history of aviation, humankind has fought to slip the surly bonds of Earth using heavier and heavier things. To do it, airplanes need to be lightweight, or have really big wings and a lot of speed. But can a heavy, slow object get off the ground? To find out, a trio of students from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology set out to make aviation history. They built a super-heavy, completely impractical airplane: One made from concrete. And it worked. Kind of.
It did not soar. It did not travel far. It did not get more than a few inches off the ground, and it did not fly straight. It flipped over and crashed, is what it did. But it got off the ground, flew, landed, and survived!
The only other concrete airplane known to have flown was built at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., a prestigious flight school. But that plane was destroyed when it crashed. Not so for this hardy plane from the Great Plains. The main goal was for it to take off and survive landing: Mission accomplished.
David Haberman and Tyler Pojanowski, both mechanical engineering majors, and Seth Adams, a civil and environmental engineering major, worked on the plane for a year. Pojanowski recalls that he was afraid of what would happen, even though his calculations said it would work.
"There wasn't much time because once it got air it just went over, it flipped over. I was freaked because I was really close to it and was worried it was going to hit me," Pojanowski says in a news release.
Haberman said he saw a puff of smoke and thought the plane had exploded. It only sustained a crack in the fuselage and wing, but was otherwise OK.
"Everything in aviation you want to be high-strength and low-weight, and concrete is the exact opposite. That's why the professors did the project, to challenge engineers, to see what we could do," Haberman said.
The students think it worked in part because of a special university concrete blend, which was developed for another totally bizarre engineering project, a concrete canoe. Because why not.
"...It did not soar. It did not travel far. It did not get more than a few inches off the ground, and it did not fly straight. It flipped over and crashed, is what it did...."
Depending upon the engineers imagine goal, perhaps it was a success in his mind.
For me, they might as well just launch a rocket and then watch plummet back to Earth an illustration of thrust, not flying.
But from an engineering prototype perspective, if he accomplish his desired goal, KUDOS TO HIM!
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Are you kidding me 12? clearly that must be your age based on your comment because even the wright brothers at kitty hawk didnt put on a spectacular show, infact it was almost exactly like this.
flew a few hundred feet, maybe only 6 feet of the ground, before landing again, do you expect them to do backflips and have missile launchers on the first go?
a testament to the idiocy our society has come to..
Who knew a cement airplane could fly?
I have tossed a rock of cement before, so did it fly?
Yes he made a shaped cement plane, but by the description of its flight and landing, what was the human control and safely landing flying part? Come on, be serious!
And making a plane out of concrete, what is the point? If given enough thrust it was made to fly. Don't we put tons of weight in outer space by rockets!
Are they proposing some manufacturing plant is going to be spitting out super heavy Flintstone planes, really? Where is the efficiency in this, let alone it did NOT fly.
"Next coming up soon, a lead poured plane, with video of engineers standing about wondering why it didn't fly too."
Oye! Come on, get real!
Wonder: It took off due to aerodynamics, not thrusting it with rockets. The big deal here is the inherent brittleness of concrete would make it difficult to keep together for conventional designs - lead would actually be significantly easier to use. These guys came up with a design that could take advantage of a material that has better tensile strength than normal concrete. If you note their disciplines, ME and CE, their lessons learned from this could lead to better, cheeper bridges, buildings, and other infrastructure.
I wonder how much less hardness this concrete has vs. conventional- does it still have good compressive strength?
Way to go guys. Probably nose heavy huh? Love discovering the possible.
Forgive me for not drinking your cool-aid, sir.
@Wonder, the point of this project is not to develop a next-generation airplane. It's an investigation of the limits of age-old materials. Keep in mind that Roman engineers were using concrete at least as early as 300 BC, and that generous definitions of concrete place its origins as far back as 800 BC. Yet these students have just shown a new capability for a material that's been around for at least 2000 years. Not too shabby when you look at it that way.
It's not that we're going to go off and build planes out of concrete now, because realistically it's a terrible material for aerospace. However, concrete is a VERY useful material in construction, but it's clear that we still have more to learn about it's capacities. If people aren't willing to test the boundaries, we'll never know what they are, and perhaps will never fully realize the potential of a material. I know that sounds a bit lofty for describing some students building a plane notable for surviving it's inevitable crash-landing, but I think that the concrete plane serves as a wonderful example of the principals of experimentation.
Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.
If you wish to use a composite material to make a plane, fine.
If you wish to use a composite SUPER HEAVY material is just silly. I shouldn't have to state the obvious, but I guess it needs stating, lol. The additional weight takes away from being efficient and effective. Unless you goal is to be LESS efficient and LESS effective flying, is that your goal?
So you decided to use the composite material concrete and loss in being efficent and effecting in flying. What did you gain by using concrete?
"...another totally bizarre engineering project, a concrete canoe. Because why not."
Joseph-Louis Lambot built two concrete rowboats in 1848 and submitted a patent application in 1852 for what he called "fer-ciment".
Ferrocement, as it is now usually called, is a composite material that integrates the compressive strength of a Portland cement and sand mixture with the tensile strength of a fine mesh of steel (or nowadays sometimes other fibers) to produce a tough thin shell.
In the 19th century this labor-intensive technique was soon overshadowed commercially by what is now familiar as reinforced concrete - more of a brute-force, comparatively low-skilled method of pouring massive amounts of concrete (Portland plus a full range of aggregate sizes including gravel) into forms or molds prepared with widely spaced, large-diameter steel reinforcing bars and/or very coarse mesh.
Nevertheless, hundred-foot-long ocean-going ships with ferrocement hulls only an inch thick continue to be routinely produced (primarily in Asia), along with material-efficient (and often elegantly beautiful) land structures.
And yes, building a concrete canoe can be very practical for a do-it-yourselfer, and useful as a learning exercise for students. The 19th annual Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition among teams of engineering students is May 17-19, 2013 in Montreal, and the 26th ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition will take place June 20-22, 2013 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, along with similar upcoming events in the Netherlands and Germany.
But no, I grant that building a concrete airplane is slightly frivolous. Still, I applaud an academic environment that can challenge and engage students to gain hands-on experience with pushing the limits of materials. We need this generation to be willing and able to entertain paradoxical thoughts and work through the implications. A bit of humor can't hurt, either.
Say what is canoe with you?
Well nothing really, just builing a concrete plane.
Did it fly?
Not really, but I understand the characteristics
of flying and this concrete better.
Ah, so in trying and failure, you learned.