BAE Systems is leading a newly launched European study project aimed at the eventual goal of a self-inspecting aircraft.

A BAE Hawk test aircraft is being fitted with an underfuselage pod, containing a system of smart sensors devised by the BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre (ATC). These use acoustic emission detection technology to listen for growing flaws in a structure and can pick out the sound and position of the smallest of cracks in metal or carbon fibre composites.

In the Hawk test aircraft, they will be used to inspect and pinpoint cracks in specifically designed dummy structures during flight, and the system will then download a diagnosis when the aircraft lands.

Structural inspections represent a significant factor in the cost of supporting military and commercial aircraft fleets, especially as aircraft age.


The new system aims to avoid lengthy and expensive structural inspections requiring the repeated dismantling of large sections of aircraft, by reliably and quickly detecting the onset of any damage.

It is estimated that the system could lead to more cost-effective operations, increase availability and save many millions of pounds over the lifetime of a fleet.

The concept of acoustic emission detection has been known for some time, but it has rarely been tested in flight. The Hawk test bed will allow engineers to test the technology in a real environment: a modern, fully operational fast jet, under real conditions. In addition to BAE Systems' ATC other partners in the programme include Smart Fibres (supplying fibre optics), Qinetiq (ultrasonics) and EDS. NLR from the Netherlands is providing a central computer, while Emmecon of Finland is supporting the onboard network which links the sensors.



Source: Flight Daily News