With 787 first flight targeted for the end of this month, Boeing and GE Sensing & Inspection Technologies are looking ahead to the entry into service of the first majority composite airliner with Bondtracer, a tool enabling ramp and flightline crews to evaluate damage to composite structure.
GE partnered with Boeing to build on the US airframer's Ramp Damage Checker for inspecting composite structure in the event that it is struck by ground handling equipment, as often happens during the normal course of airline operations.
The Bondtracer is designed for use on the 787, but can also be used for any aircraft with composite structure and will accommodate the Airbus A350 XWB in the future.
Damage to carbon fibre is often difficult to determine because the surface often reflects no visible harm. However, beneath the skin of the aircraft sub-surface delamination of the fibre can be difficult to see with the naked eye and can undermine aircraft structural integrity if left unaddressed.
"Carbon fibre composites require different processes for evaluating impact and performing non-destructive inspection," says Thierry Laffont, Aerospace Segment Manager at GE Sensing & Inspection Technologies.
"Our goal with Bondtracer is to provide ramp crews with a simple device to quickly determine when more extensive inspection is required. The solution allows airlines to ensure safety while increasing efficiency and productivity," Laffont adds.
Boeing received US Federal Aviation Administration approval for the 787's maintenance plan in December 2008.
GE likens Bondracer to a common stud-finder, with a green light indicating consistent undamaged thickness and a red light indicated an unanticipated change in thickness. The tool is designed for ramp personnel with no non-destructive training or certification.
The 787 will enter service with Japan's All Nippon Airways in the first quarter of 2010.