It’s light and strong and might be the material of the future… now

HUNTSVILLE, Ala --When you talk about Army aviation you are mostly discussing the Army's fleet of helicopters. At Redstone Arsenal the Program Executive Office for Aviation is all about making those helicopters the best they can be.  Rob Grigsby, the President of Huntsville's Advanced Aerospace Tooling Inc. used to work there. "One of the issues we had was the weight of the aircraft, and so we were always looking for new materials that could displace current materials that were heavy," said Rob Grigsby.

As it happens Rob has his own company now, and he believes he's using the material that could make Army helicopters better. The material is a composite that's made by mixing up 15 or more ingredients, pouring it into a mold and then baking it in a huge oven. The product takes the shape of the mold, and once cured has all sorts of good properties. "Corrosion resistance, thermal properties (it doesn't conduct heat), strength," said Rob. He added that it doesn't conduct electricity, and it has ballistic capabilities.

Randy Black is Operations Manager for the company and showed off a block of the composite material that had been tested as bullet resistant. "This 12 by 12 test panel stopped 24 of 25 ballistic projectiles ranging from 9 millimeter to 7.62 and the one that went through to the other side, went through an existing hole that was already there," said Randy.

All the properties listed here are the kind of things that Rob and Randy think will make their composite material perfect for use by NASA or even private industry for applications in space flight. "Part of it is the weight, the ability for us to cast this product...the radiation properties , being able to protect against some levels of radiation," said Rob.

The company is slowly expanding its list of customers from the defense industry and manufacturing. On the day we visited they were working on a composite desk top that might replace the standard metal that has been used in the past. The composite is 40% lighter than aluminum and 80 percent lighter than steel.

The guys at Advanced Aerospace Tooling believe their composite is the future, but the going is sometimes a bit slow. "Predominately it's a lack of understanding of the product, and it's quite frankly breaking through the bureaucracies of larger corporations that are unfamiliar with our product right now," said Rob Grigsby.