NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre and Physical Sciences have teamed to develop an optical sensor which can detect the density and velocity of air passing through an aircraft engine, opening the possibility of real time performance optimisation.

The air mass flux sensor provides data without interrupting airflow through the engine and, as such, is non-obtrusive. It uses a diode laser - which is similar to the laser in a compact-disc player - to measure the amount of airflow, yet it does not interfere with engine operation.

The sensor may make it possible to determine the optimal amount of fuel necessary to fly an aircraft in various atmospheric conditions, data which could then be used by the fuel system computers of in service aircraft to yield higher efficiencies. Safety may also be enhanced through rapid detection of changes in operating conditions preceding hazardous events such as compressor stall.

A prototype built by the Andover, Massachusetts-based company has been run on a test stand with a Pratt & Whitney engine. A flightworthy unit is scheduled to fly on board a NASA-operated Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, adapted for use as a research aircraft, early next year.

Source: Flight International