Rome Laboratory Technology Undergoing Flight Testing

Technology designed at the Air Force Research Laboratory-Rome (AFRL) to preempt catastrophic aircraft system failures by detecting wiring problems before they can cause a failure is currently undergoing a yearlong flight test using a Navy F/A-18 aircraft. In addition to making aircraft safer, the technology should also significantly reduce aircraft maintenance costs due to better detection of cable and wiring faults.

The technology, which was invented by AFRL’s Frank Born, Dr. Roy Stratton, and Capt. Lamar Harris, is designed to detect cable and conduit chafing. AFRL’s interest in chafing and corrosion began in the 1990s and peaked after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited the possibility that TWA Flight 800’s center fuel tank exploded in July 1996 due to an electrical short circuit. “Detection of Conduit Chafing” was granted a U.S. patent in 2001 and is licensed by Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing Co. of Killdeer, N.D. Kildeer Mountain Manufacturing is teaming with Boeing, KRL Engineering and the Navy to produce onboard implementation and interrogation mechanisms for detecting cable chafing in aircraft and helicopters.

“Wiring systems are known to be a large contributor to aircraft problems,” said Born. “Cable chafing and connector corrosion are both age-related and, as such, will continue to cause more problems as the air fleet ages.” The detector uses a simple sensing technique to monitor electrical and hydraulic conduits for chafing that can lead to disastrous mid-air failures. A fiber optic cable or other piece of wire is wrapped around the conduit being monitored. The sensor breaks, or short circuits, when there is dangerous chafing.

The technology is expected to be of prime interest to aircraft manufacturers and military program offices, but it can also be applied to hydraulic or fuel lines where rupture or bursting could cause system failures and damage to surrounding materials.

For more information, contact Francis L. Crumb, (315) 330-3053, crumb@rl.af.mil.

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