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Blastworthy Textile-Based Luggage Containers for Aviation Safety

State of the Art - Background

Tags: Air

The rise in worldwide terrorism requires that measures be taken to strengthen aircraft against catastrophic in-flight failure due to terrorist bombings. Since the crashes of Air India Flight 182 (1985, 329 casualties) and Pan Am Flight 103 (1988, 270 casualties), both of which exploded due to bombs concealed within the passengers' baggage, much effort has been carried out by governments and international bodies to prevent further such disasters; nevertheless, the risk that a small quantity of an explosive, below the threshold of the detection instruments, could go undetected is not negligible. The introduction of countermeasures to reduce the effects of onboard explosions has to be considered. Hardened luggage containers (HULD) have been developed for the latter scope, but their shortcomings, the biggest being their high weight and cost, have prevented their wide utilisation and market acceptance; moreover, they are not available for most narrow-body aircrafts. The issue of containing explosions aboard narrow-body aircrafts has yet to be resolved.


FLY-BAG aims at designing and realising a blast-worthy textile-based luggage container to protect aircrafts from explosions caused by bombs concealed inside checked-in luggage. Combining textile fibres and composite materials allows the container to achieve a high flexibility and reconfigurability, a low weight and high resistance to explosions; moreover, this concept applies to both wide- and narrow-body aircraft and can be further customised for practically any application and configuration.

Flexible, lightweight textile structures will be designed to resist explosions by controlled expansion and mitigation of the shock waves, while at the same time retaining hard-luggage fragment projectiles and preventing them from hitting the aircraft fuselage at high speed. A multi-layer structure will be developed to absorb the large dynamic loads of the explosion and the large deformation related to the gas expansion. The idea is to use a textile structure made of ballistic yarns as an internal high-strength layer to stop the ejected debris, coupled with an external layer which could deform in a controlled way during the explosion, in a way similar to car airbags, mitigating the blast pressure. The combination of different innovative textile materials shall allow achieving a great blast resistance while retaining an acceptably low weight.

Description of Work

In order to grant the project the maximum effectiveness, the functional requirements for the development of a novel safety device for the containment of the luggage in the cargo compartment are defined to meet the needs of real-life working conditions; this is assured by the presence of an airline as an end-user within the consortium. The design and fabrication activities are supported by intensive sessions of small-scale tests of the composite and textile materials subjected to different loading conditions to measure their blast, ballistic and flame performance, and Finite Element Model simulations of the dynamic behaviour of the luggage container under blast. The prototyping phase comprises a first stage of separate fabrication and testing of all the different elements of the system (i.e. textile components, composite elements, belts, internal and external connections, opening systems) followed by the assembly of a full-scale prototype of the container structure, tailored for the luggage compartment of a narrow-body aircraft. At the end of the project, full-scale validation will be achieved through full-scale blast testing of the textile container prototype placed in a mock-up simulating the basic aircraft structure (e.g., airframe, stringers, skin panels, wall liners and floor beams) of the cargo hold.

Expected Results

A short-term impact will already occur in the final part of the project, as it will lead to the demonstration of the performance of the novel device within the consortium providing valuable results to the members. The direct involvement of end-users within the project activities will give them the opportunity to further improve their visibility as companies at the forefront of passenger security. Furthermore this project contributes to increased international co-operation, especially in the delicate field of aviation safety research.

A medium-term impact of the project will be the fulfilment of the urgent but yet unsolved need to protect in an efficient and cost-effective way narrow-body aircrafts from the risk of explosions in the cargo area. The outcome of the project will be used to stimulate the organisations in charge of the security of the air transport system to accept the new system and to start the required procedure for its standardisation and general acceptance, opening an opportunity for a huge potential market.

In the long term, this novel concept can be used in other industrial sectors, especially within transport (e.g. railways, maritime) and therefore it will provide an excellent opportunity for benchmarking and comparing different safety measures. Moreover, it could lead to the optimisation of safety/security of the transport industry as a whole.

Multi-axial blastworthy textile structure
Multi-axial blastworthy textile structure
Bulk luggage in aircraft hold
Bulk luggage in aircraft hold