Magazine article Science News

Software Enhances View of Aircraft Flaws

Magazine article Science News

Software Enhances View of Aircraft Flaws

Article excerpt

The day the roof ripped off Aloha Airlines flight 243 at 24,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, aviation research took a new turn. Officials blamed widespread corrosion as a main culprit in the 1988 disaster. The incident intensified work in a field known as nondestructive evaluation--analyzing the guts of materials without cutting them open.

Scientists have now designed software that they say should enable a portable scanning machine to check a plane's fuselage for corrosion more quickly, effectively, and safely than any current tool. Eugene V. Malyarenko and Mark K. Hinders of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., describe their system in the October JOURNAL OF THE ACOUSTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA.

A scanning machine clocks how quickly ultrasonic waves travel within a plane's skin. Pulses that arrive at an endpoint faster than expected serve as an early indicator of thinning material, a sign of corrosion. The technique is akin to one that seismologists use to picture Earth's interior.

For years, engineers using ultrasound have peered into the skin of jets, but they've been able to examine a mere postage stamp-size area at a time. They've used only a small number of transducers because the computing power wasn't available to interpret signals from a larger array. What's more, it's taken an expert in mechanical-waveguide physics to make sense of the data collected.

Hinders says the new approach will rely on several thousand transducers. …

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