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Aircraft structural monitoring sensor tests on track

WESTERN Australia-based Structural Monitoring Systems says its in-flight commercial test program with Delta Air Lines and Boeing has completed the first sets of data acquisition.

Structural Monitoring Systems (SMS) is the developer of CVM sensors, which provide a novel method to monitor cracks and flaws in structures in real-time. The technology works by measuring the differential pressure between fine galleries containing a low vacuum alternating with galleries at atmosphere in a simple manifold.

In the absence of cracks or flaws in the structure being monitored, the vacuum will remain at a stable level. If a flaw develops, air will flow through the passage created from the atmosphere to the vacuum galleries.

The sensors may either take the form of self-adhesive polymer sensors or may form part of the component. A transducer measures the fluid flow between the galleries.

CVM is already used in aviation testing facilities, often to control a fatigue testing program. But SMS is now testing the integration of its CVM systems with aircrafts to provide an in-flight structural health monitoring system.

This monitoring system would consist of a number of different types of sensors placed at strategic locations throughout an aircraft, all of which would be linked to onboard instrumentation. Such a system would be able to continuously monitor the development of any cracks areas at high risk of crack formation.

The current test program is being conducted by Delta and Boeing, and is overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration in the US. Multiple sensors were installed on seven of Delta’s Boeing 737-700/800 series aircraft.

The first sets of data indicate that the sensors are performing fully as expected, and all values are fully within acceptable tolerance ranges. The data acquisition will be iterated on each aircraft multiple times.

SMS says that given the number of sensors deployed in the tests and the number of aircraft they are being tested on, the data from the tests should allow it to obtain FAA approval before the end of 2014.

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