How Things Work: Self-Healing Airplanes
Several technologies that could put mechanics out of work.
- By Tom LeCompte
- Air & Space magazine, July 2009
B. Blaiszik, University of Illinois
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Purdue researcher Dimitrios Peroulis is working with the U.S. Air Force to develop sensors able to monitor bearing viability in jet engines. His colleague Doug Adams says that the information will allow mechanics to swap out a bearing that’s about to fail and leave others to complete their life cycles. Current protocols require throwing away good parts according to a maintenance schedule. If they’re self-monitoring, says Adams, “while the individual parts will be more expensive, you’ll save money, as you’ll replace them less often. It also means the machines will be in service longer between maintenance checks.”
Composite materials have already made the 787 about 20 percent lighter than if it were made with the amount of aluminum found in previous jetliners. Future ones will be lighter still, more efficient, cheaper to maintain, and profitable for longer periods. If you combine these advances with self-healing, Pipes says, “now, that’s the dream.” Just not the dream of a mechanic in need of steady work.
Tom LeCompte won a 2009 Aerospace Journalist of the Year award for his Air & Space article “The Disorient Express” (Aug./Sept. 2008).