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UK-led team develops explosion-proof luggage bag for aircraft

23 December 2015

Incidents such as the downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt in October – which killed 224 people and is thought to possibly have been caused by a bomb on board – indicate how vulnerable aircraft are to internal explosions. To counter this, a team of scientists have developed technology that could make aircraft safe from future on-board bombs and explosive devices. 

A test explosion without the Fly-Bag installed. The device can contain a similar blast. Credit: University of Sheffield
A test explosion without the Fly-Bag installed. The device can contain a similar blast. Credit: University of Sheffield

The Fly-Bag, developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield, is a bomb-proof lining that can be erected within the luggage hold of an aircraft to contain any blasts that emanate from explosives concealed in baggage. It uses multiple layers of fabrics and composites including aramid (Kevlar), which is used in ballistic body armour. The combination of materials gives the Fly-Bag high strength and resistance to impact and heat.

Fly-bag has to contain a shockwave that can move at up to 20,000mph and temperatures up to 3,000 degrees, as well as resisting the inflation effect of the expanding gases from combustion of the explosive and any shrapnel.

The team has developed their layered material so that it can withstand these conditions while being only 1.3mm thick. After initial tests in blast laboratories, a subsequent phase took place in aircraft holds at Cotswold airport in Gloucestershire.

“Key to the concept is that the lining is flexible and this adds to its resilience when containing the explosive force and any fragments produced,” said research diector Andy Tyas of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering at Sheffield, who is also a director of a university spin-out called Blastech. “This helps to ensure that the Fly-Bag acts as a membrane rather than as a rigid-walled container which might shatter on impact.”

A European consortium working on the Fly Bag project includes Blastech, a spin out company from the University of Sheffield, as well as partners from Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The team envisages three different versions of Fly-Bag, all of which would need to be certified by aircraft regulators: a lining that would hang inside the entire luggage compartment of a narrow-bodied jet; a smaller version for the luggage crates that are used in wide-bodied jets; and a compact version that would be carried in the passenger compartment and used if cabin crew suspect a passenger has brought a bomb on board in their hand-luggage.

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