US Air Force Contracts Michigan State, Boeing to Better Detect Aircraft Cracks
$4 Million Contract award to MSU and Boeing
MLIVE, EAST LANSING -- The U.S. Air Force has hired the services of Michigan State University and Boeing Co. to help improve detection of compromises in aircraft's structural integrity.
MSU and Boeing were awarded a $4 million contract to develop new sensors that better identify breaks and corrosion in the second- and third-layers of airframes.
"Airplanes are made of multiple layers of aluminum that are held together by thousands of fasteners," said Lalita Udpa, professor of electrical and computer engineering at MSU, who leads the job for the university. "Cracks can develop at the fastener sites in areas of high stress.
"Our job is to develop and apply simulation models for the design of a sensor that can reliably detect cracks that are deep into the third layers in the presence of other complex edges and magnetic materials."
MSU was the Air Force Research Laboratory's top choice for a research partner to work with Boeing, according to Udpa.
The MSU team will design and test new sensor concepts in the laboratory for about a year and a half. That's when Boeing comes in, testing the MSU-designed sensors. MSU researchers will refine their designs with the help of Boeing's evaluations.
Electromagnetic sensor systems incorporating magnetoresistive detectors have been proven better capabilities than conventional contemporary sensors for detecting cracks in thick, complex metallic airframes, according to Udpa. She said magnetoresistive sensors will allow for inspections of critical areas of an aircraft, minimizing the need for disassembly and thereby decreasing the maintenance burden to ensure aircraft are structurally sound.
“The sensor packaging will need to be durable and reliable enough for daily on-aircraft inspection processes,” said Udpa, who is an expert in nondestructive evaluation, which can be compared to biomedical imaging like X-rays that enable noninvasive inspection of internal organs.
“There aren’t many universities in the country with a long history of (nondestructive evaluation) experience,” she added. “Michigan State is among the few.”