Adding Innovation to Certificated Aircraft Requires FAA STC and Requires Knowledgeable Experts

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ARTICLE: ‘Shark skin’ technology to boost aircraft efficiency
Riblets that allow great whites to slide through the water are being tested by Lufthansa on its planes

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The design engineers of competitive swimming suits observed that the skin of sharks increased the hydrodynamics of a body moving through water. They created a design that so revolutionized the sport that it was eventually banned.

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Since aerodynamics and hydrodynamics are basically the same, the smart folks at Lufthansa Technik found a surface coating which similarly created tiny riblets on the surface which reduces flow resistance when moving at speed. Months of testing with patches have produced promising results, enhancing the aerodynamics and energy efficiency of the plane.

Such advances challenge the FAA’s Type and Production Certificate regimes. The addition of a layer of skin to an airplane technically alters the underlying airworthiness determination. The decision to seek a Supplemental Type Certificate and the submission of the data to the FAA is critical to obtaining the requisite authority in a reasonable period and without undue testing. The applicant for such authority would be well advised to seek expert advice.

The designers of this incredibly innovative seat design face even greater challenges. They must demonstrate that their new concept meets the rules applicable to this addition to the aircraft—its structural integrity, the different weight distribution and the evacuation of the passengers under emergency conditions.

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