Europe's flagship €1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) Clean Sky research programme may be bogged down in red tape, but some hardware from the struggling green technology initiative has made it to the show.

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability (LBF) is displaying a 4m (13ft)-long mock-up of a light aircraft wing equipped with structural health monitoring systems.

Fibre-reinforced composites offer great potential weight savings for aerostructures, but their complex damage behaviour compared with metallic materials means that these benefits cannot always be fully exploited, says the insitute. However, sensors in the wings and fuselage can detect early-stage structural damage that would otherwise not be externally visible, reducing inspection times and costs.

"In the future, it will be possible to reduce costs and weight thanks to supplementary, automatic monitoring with structure-integrated sensors," says Darmstadt-based Fraunhofer LBF. "Structural health monitoring acts like the nervous system for a component. Sensors and evaluation electronics register external impacts and detect any damage.

"In particular, hail or bird strikes present a considerable danger to aircraft," it adds. "Aircraft can also be chipped by grit from the runway or damaged by tools dropped during maintenance work. With fibre-reinforced sandwich structures, such damage is very rarely visible on the outside."

The exhibit's upper and lower frames are equipped with fibre-optic sensors to obtain information about the expansion of the structure, by measuring the wavelength distortion of reflected waves.

Source: Flight Daily News