International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology

ISSN: 0955-6222

Article publication date: 28 October 2014



Stylios, G. (2014), "Editorial", International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, Vol. 26 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCST-09-2014-0116



Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, Volume 26, Issue 6

A discussion about textiles and flying

The use of textiles for flying can go back to ancient times when Daedalus and his son Icarus made wings from feathers and wax, attached them to their body and escaped from the labyrinth of King Minoa who had sent them there for punishment. So Daedalus and Icarus escaped from their prison making the first human flying endeavour in history using textiles 2,000 years before the Rait brothers.

The pioneering work of Hass on fabric mechanics enabled the era of the Zeppelins a topic recently well documented at the JTI (Issam Yousef and Stylios, 2014). The outer shell of those legendary airships was made of rubberized cotton fabric and goldbeater's skin (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The first Zeppelin LZ1 in 1900

Since then the further use of textiles as composites in modern aircrafts made flying an enjoyable endeavour for mankind. Commercial flying would be difficult without the use of textiles. New technologies with SMART textiles push the frontiers of flying further. As it is unimaginable how commercial travelling would have been without textiles now it seems impossible to develop unmanned airplanes, stealth fighter jets and energy-efficient aircraft without them. Lets take the case of shape changing where the shape of the wings change during travelling and coupled with their light weight propel the aircraft forward without the need of conventional fuel. The new generations of commercial aircraft are made increasingly with textile composites because they are lighter, resilient and stronger. I have discussed and stated the advantages of developing nanofibre composites that would be even lighter and stronger and offer the ultimate new structures for aerospace efficiency.

Ultra strong Aramid fibres are widely used today in aircraft making because they have low-density, high specific strength and specific modulus, whilst are easily fabricated by conventional manufacturing methods (Figure 2). Other fibres used are Carbon, Kevlar, Alumina-boria-silica fibres and Nylon 6, 6. Both uni-directional as well as multi-directional composites exhibit good properties in in-plane and out-plane directions and are made by weaving, knitting, braiding and stitching.

Figure 2 Textile high-performance composites

Textiles improve strength, performance and fuel economy of flying today and for this reason there are successful developments that allow humans to travel at lower cost. In 1982 Airbus was first to use CFRP to make spoilers, elevators, fins and rudders on A310-200 and A310-300. The new Boeing 767 commercial jet contains 46 per cent textile composite body parts. The McDonnell Douglas F-18 attack fighter uses 56 per cent of textile composites in its body and the air force' most advanced forward wing design X-29 airplane. Multi-axial warp knitting, tri-axial braiding and z-stitching are now being researched to develop aerospace even further.

Nobody forgets the diverse pilot suits that they are being developed out of textiles to aid protection and comfort to astronauts, to airplane fighter pilots and now to commercial cosmonauts. Astronauts would have found it very difficult to fly and to make space walks if their space suits were not made of PBI non-flammable high-performance textile composites allowing thermal resistance and thermal insulation. NASA' new Z-2 spacesuit for Mars (Figure 3), will have to protect the astronauts from micrometeorite strikes, extreme temperature and radiation, whilst being comfortable to wear, emphasizing the importance that textile properties will play once more.

Figure 3 NASA's "Technology" Z-2 spacesuit design

The rapidly advancing developments in SMART wearable technology, which is also underpinned by textiles, for health monitoring, for monitoring environmental changes and for position, acceleration and deceleration are being integrated in those suits to provide higher comfort and protection for astronauts, pilots, sports people and patients. A wearable medical ECG can now be 34×25×7 mm in size and can weigh 8 g (Figure 4).

Figure 4 A low-energy small size wireless wearable medical ECG

In September 2014 NASA[1] has chosen two companies Space-X and Boeing to supply transportation to the International Space Station. We think that this marks an end to expensive government space flight and the beginning of commercial space travel. Will this become a race of space travel just like the cheap airline travel that we know today? Textiles will play here again a major role.

Textiles are not only found in spacecraft but in covering the optics of satellite instruments with "blacker than black" carbon or graphene nano-based coatings. "NASA hopes to replace the black paint currently used in telescopes to minimize contamination by stray light" (up to 40 per cent of incoming light is unusable). Super-black materials ten times darker than the black paint may improve observations of distant galaxies or exo-planets orbiting stars in our own galaxy”[2].

Looking to the future and again mapping the possibilities of modern SMART textile materials such as shape memory alloys (SMA), piezoelectric actuators (PZT) and shape memory polymers (SMP) we can expect super efficient aircraft propulsion using shape morphing wing design. The work so far indicates that these SMART flexural structures form a real possibility for aerospace technology of the future (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Morphing aircraft

Perhaps and we can close this interesting discussion, it is ironic that after centuries man has also succeeded in flying alone though not with textile wings as Deadalus and Icarus did, but nevertheless with jet engines suspended in wings.

Yevs Rossy the Swiss Jetman[3] as he is widely known, in 2006 was credited as the first man in aviation history to fly with a jet-propelled wing and his endeavour to fly higher and further continues.

George K. Stylios


1. Source: www.cbc.ca/news/technology/nasa-s-spacex-boeing-deal-a-giant-leap-for-space-flight-1.2771526

2. Source: www.3ders.org/articles/20140114-3d-printing-the-blacker-than-black-supported-by-nasa.html

3. Source: www.jetman.com/


Issam Yuosef, M. and Stylios, G.K. (2014), “Legacy of the Zeppelins: defining fabrics as engineering materials”, Journal of Textile Institute, pp. 1-10, doi:10.1080/00405000.2014.926606