NASA, Partners Testing Aircraft Engine Health Monitoring System

The tests feed volcanic ash into jet engines to test advanced sensors and diagnostics.

Remember Eyjafjallajökull? Perhaps not, but the international aviation community certainly does recall the name of the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010, halting flights in much of Europe and causing widespread disruptions. Now, NASA is testing a new system for monitoring aircraft engines' health by feeding volcanic ash into a test engine, Jay Levine, an editor at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, wrote in a report on www.nasa.gov July 20.

He wrote that a joint NASA, government, and industry project team is conducting the tests at the research center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as part of the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research project. "Volcanic ash was chosen for the final of a three-phase research project because atmospheric particulates have become of interest to military and civil aviation authorities that have to assess the airworthiness of engines that have encountered the ash," Levine reported. "Eruptions in Iceland over the last five years, especially in 2010, disrupted air traffic worldwide and cost airline companies more than $1 billion due to cancelled or rerouted flights. The new sensors are expected to detect the degradation caused by the volcanic ash, quantify the significance of the event, and aid in identifying which components might require maintenance."

The research center contributed two F-117 engines for the testing of sensors and advanced diagnostic techniques. Levine's report quotes Jack Hoying, U.S. Air Force volcanic ash environment principal investigator: "Compressor blade erosion and turbine ash deposits are what is damaging the engine. The tests can answer questions about how close we can fly to these volcanic plumes."

Partners on the project include the FAA, Boeing Research & Technology, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric Aviation, and Rolls-Royce Liberty Works, he reported.

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