Warton, UK - A system of smart sensors that can automatically inspect structures for damage, potentially saving millions in servicing and support costs, has made its first flight on a BAE Systems Hawk.
The flight trial has demonstrated for the first time, the operation of a fully integrated automated damage detection system within a flight environment. This is an important step towards the eventual goal of self-inspecting aircraft.
Led by BAE Systems, the Advanced Structural Health Monitoring System (AHMOS) is being developed as part of a European Research and Development funded initiative.
Structural inspection is a significant factor in the cost of supporting fleets of both military and commercial aircraft. In-service lives of 40 years or more are now expected and, as the aircraft age, the servicing needed to maintain stringent air-worthiness standards becomes ever more costly.
Jim McFeat, AHMOS Technical Manager at BAE Systems, said, "The new system aims to avoid lengthy and expensive structural inspections that require the repeated dismantling of large sections of aircraft. Very often such inspections are precautionary and no faults that need repairing are found."
During flight testing, the 'acoustic emission detection' kit housed in a self-contained pod attached to the underside of the Hawk, was able to pinpoint cracks in specifically designed dummy structures and download a diagnosis when the aircraft landed.
Jim McFeat added, "Using a combination of strain gauge sensors and fibre optic cables connected to a computer, and contained within an aerodynamic pod under from the fuselage of the Hawk, we have now demonstrated the technology works."