Northrop Grumman is to develop technology for predicting the structural health and flight readiness of aircraft under the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency's structural integrity prognosis system programme. The company has received a contract worth up to $32 million to demonstrate a system able to detect fatigue and corrosion damage, and predict aircraft structural capability in real time or near real time.

The first target application is NorthropGrumman's EA-6B Prowler, which is suffering airframe ageing issues resulting from heavy use of the electronic-warfare aircraft. In late September, the US Navy removed 19 of its 95 Prowlers from service for fatigue damage repairs, with 24 to follow by the end of this month. The sensor network and software algorithms could find application in other military and commercial aircraft.

The prognosis system will use a network of sensors to detect fatigue, corrosion and other damage. Software algorithms will use the data to monitor the aircraft's condition, assess combat capability and predict airframe life. The system is expected to reduce maintenance life-cycle costs, improve safety and increase aircraft availability. Northrop Grumman says the system will provide military commanders with "quantitative performance predictors" to allow aircraft to be used to the limit of their capability.

Source: Flight International