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Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2007) 365, 561587


doi:10.1098/rsta.2006.1924
Published online 13 December 2006

Fatigue in aerostructureswhere structural


health monitoring can contribute to a
complex subject
B Y C HRISTIAN B OLLER 1, *
1

AND

M ATTHIAS B UDERATH 2

Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Shefeld, Mappin Street,


Shefeld S1 3JD, UK
2
EADS Military Air Systems, 81663 Mu
nchen, Germany

An overview of the aircraft design and maintenance process is given with specic
emphasis on the fatigue design as well as the phenomenon of the ageing aircraft observed
over the life cycle. The different measures taken to guarantee structural integrity along
the maintenance process are addressed. The impact of structural health monitoring as a
means of possibly revolutionizing the current aircraft structural monitoring and design
process is emphasized and comparison is made to jet engines and helicopters, where
health monitoring has already found the respective breakthrough.
Keywords: fatigue; aircraft; structures; monitoring; sensors

1. Introduction
Fatigue of aerostructures has been an issue since the early twentieth century. Once
accumulation of damage resulting from cyclic loads could be proven to be valid,
aircraft were specically designed such that they would withstand the loads for a
dened life without visible cracks. Progress achieved in fracture mechanics has
been then taken advantage of in a way such that damage (e.g. cracks) can be
allowed to be present in the structure, as long as its propagation can be controlled.
This has led to lighter weight design, which is always a major design driver for
aircraft but has also required more and scheduled inspection to be done over the
aircrafts operational life. The balance between gain through lighter weight versus
loss resulting from enhanced inspection effort has still been positive with regard to
direct operating cost (DOC). This is roughly speaking the way aerostructures are
handled nowadays with respect to their integrity. There is a well-established
design and maintenance procedure for all this, which has resulted in codes of
practice, procedures and handbooks having been established and improved over
decades (Anon. 1995, 2005; MIL-Handbook 5; http://www.esdu.com).
Much was learned from dramatic aircraft accidents that happened in the past
such as with the Comet in 1954 (fracture mechanics and damage tolerance), the
Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 (ageing aircraft) and two older generation Boeing
747 from Japan Airlines in 1985 (insufcient repair) and China Airlines 2002
* Author for correspondence (c.boller@shefeld.ac.uk).
One contribution of 15 to a Theme Issue Structural health monitoring.

561

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C. Boller and M. Buderath

(delayed maintenance). All of these accidents were related to metallic structures.


Major concern regarding composite aerostructures was suddenly raised after the
American Airlines ight 586 with an Airbus A300-600 that crashed near New York
in November 2001 and where a picture of the broken composite tting of the n
was shown all around the world. However, the much more detailed investigation
showed that this picture was only the result of a variety of unlucky implications
resulting from controls and handling of the aircraft, training and possibly partially
even personal ying attitudes of the pilot who was going more to the limits than
initially assumed in the design. Finally, the helicopter world learned very quickly
from different serious accidents in the 1970s that vibration monitoring systems
need to be integrated into the gears and rotating shafts. This has resulted in their
health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) which is an integral part of nearly
any helicopter sold nowadays.
Despite all these accidents, the major issue for any aircraft operator must still
be to decrease its DOC without compromising any safety or reliability issues.
The options which exist with regard to the balance mentioned above are either to
allow for more controllable damage in the aerostructure and thus hopefully
achieve further weight reductions, or to improve and automate inspection with
the aim of reducing inspection cost or even try to go for both.
There are different ways on how to achieve this but one of them is denitely to get
more information regarding the aircrafts structural behaviour that can then either
go into the analytical procedures that allow calculation of damage accumulation
and thus consumed life in a much more appropriate way, or
give much more frequent and thus relevant information on the current damaging
stage of the aerostructure compared to the way inspection is done nowadays,
and/or
allow monitoring of areas whose damaging behaviour was not possible to be
monitored before due to economic terms.
The dynamism in sensor development these days which among others can be
observed in terms of miniaturization, performance and price, combined with the
remarkable progress achieved in sensor signal processing through mushrooming
computation power and advanced algorithms has brought in a new wave of
structural technology development that can be termed structural health
monitoring (SHM). New and further sensors will allow monitoring of operational
loads at various locations on the aircraft in much more detail which will further
allow calculation of consumed operational life much more according to the real
usage and can train pilots with regard to the implications their way of ying has
with regard to the usage of the aircraft. Further to this, there are now more and
more sensors emerging that allow monitoring of damage on structures in situ and
where information can be retrieved at virtually any time, possibly even on a
wireless basis. This denitely can help to avoid a large amount of dismantling
and re-assembly, which is normally required to access damage critical areas for
simply obtaining the information no damage found.
Throughout the following, the current process of aerostructures design and
maintenance will be described and ways will be discussed on how SHM principles
can be organically and thus benecially implemented into a relatively complex
maintenance process that has been established over decades.
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2. Principles of fatigue design


Fatigue is the effect resulting from a component being repeatedly loaded. It
results in striations starting in grains of a metallic material which then nucleate a
crack that at a certain size can be detected by means of non-destructive testing.
The number of loading cycles at a dened load is the characteristic for a fatigue
life. The following gives a brief description on the various elements being
involved in fatigue design.
(a ) Materials and component data
The basis of all fatigue design is materials and component data are usually
described as a fatigue life curve with stress and sometimes also strain plotted
over the number of cycles in an at least semi-logarithmic scale. The geometry of
the component is characterized by the stress concentration factor Kt, such that
data determined with a certain material on a specic component can be transferred to a component of different shape but equal material and Kt at least during
the pre-design phase. Materials and component data can be found throughout
the literature, in handbooks (http://www.esdu.com; MIL-Handbook 5; Boller &
Seeger 1987; Eulitz et al. 1999) or may be obtained from software (http://www.
lmsintl.com).
Fatigue life of different but geometrically equal components, made of the same
material and loaded under the same loading condition still results in signicantly
different numbers of fatigue cycles until fracture. A factor of two in fatigue life
scatter and possibly even more can be considered as absolutely normal. This
scatter mainly results from slight variations in the material properties or due to
the fact that material on a microscopic scale cannot be considered as fully
homogeneous. To avoid any unwanted failures during the operational life of a
component or material, scatter bands have to be determined from the
representative number of experimental results obtained which are based on the
safety factors imposed on the design. It is these latter fatigue life curves (usually
related to a very low rate of failure) which the fatigue design of a component is
then based upon.
In excess of fatigue life curves, there are also crack propagation data which
characterize the fatigue behaviour of materials and components. Such data are
again obtained from fatigue tests performed under constant amplitude loading on
specic typed specimens such as pre-cracked at plates or compact-tension
specimens. Crack length is recorded at different numbers of fatigue cycles for tests
performed at different stress levels. The introduction of a stress intensity factor
p
DK Z Y !Ds ! pa ;
where Y is a correction factor that accounts for geometry of the specimen used; Ds the
stress range; and a the crack length, allows all crack propagation data to fall in one
relatively narrow band when plotting the crack propagation rate da/dN versus DK.
This proves that the crack propagation behaviour can mainly be drawn independent
of the stress level applied to the specimen. Stress intensity factors and their related
correction factors can again be found in handbooks (Rooke &Cartwright 1976;
Murakami 1989) and crack propagation data can be obtained from the literature,
handbooks (http://www.esdu.com) and software.
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C. Boller and M. Buderath


strain
A

E
F
G

stress
stress
B

C
strain

H
A
E

H
A

Figure 1. Rainow hysteresis cycle counting method based on stresses and strains.

(b ) Load spectra
Fatigue life of materials and components such as described in the preceeding
paragraphs is usually determined under constant amplitude loading. Components operated in service are, however, usually subject to variable loading. The
load spectrum a component will have to anticipate therefore needs to be
characterized. This can be done in a way that the time domain strain signal
recorded is analysed according to well-dened loading cycle counting procedures
on a similar type component. The most recent and possibly now also most widely
accepted one is the rainow cycle counting procedure where each loading cycle
can be dened as a closed hysteresis loop along the stressstrain path and the
hysteresis can be characterized in terms of stress amplitude and mean stress,
respectively (gure 1). Different classes of stress amplitude and mean stress are
then dened, which allow determination of the respective distribution of
hysteresis loops recorded and thus comparison of different load sequences.
Load spectra are usually dened during the design phase of a component. In
many cases, they are based on the experience gathered in the past, possibly
topped by some additional loading conditions assumed for the new component.
Load cases have also been standardized in a variety of cases and specically in
aerospace such as with TWIST (civil aircraft), FALSTAFF (military ghters)
and HELIXFELIX (helicopters).
Loads and load sequences on components or better systems such as an aircraft
are usually measured at a very few discrete locations. For the variety of
remaining locations being prone to fatigue damage on the aircraft system, load
sequences have to be determined along transfer functions, which may be ideally
done nowadays when digital models of the aircraft are available.
(c ) Fatigue life evaluation
Fatigue life evaluation, especially when it is done numerically requires a load
spectrum, a description of the stress concentration for notches of the
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565

Fatigue in aerostructures

fatigue design

damage tolerant design

safe life design

slow crack
propagation

fail safe

crack stopper

multiple load
path

Figure 2. Airframe fatigue design principles.

componentusually described by a stress concentration factor Ktand a fatigue


life curve (SN curve). The SN curve may be determined experimentally on
notched components with the respective Kt value or determined from fatigue
data obtained on un-notched specimens using a notch strain relationship (Seeger
et al. 1990, 1991). Fatigue damage is determined for each cycle using the
Palmgren-Miner damage accumulation rule, which can be written as:
n
X
1
DZ
;
N
i
iZ1
where D, n and N denote the accumulated damage, the number of load cycles
considered for the load sequence and the number of cycles the component would
endure under the specic load for constant amplitude load sequence and a
specic damage criterion (usually either initiation of a crack at dened size or
complete fracture). Once D achieves unity, the component is considered to have
its expected fatigue life achieved.
(d ) Safe life versus damage tolerant design
Fatigue and damage tolerance are dominant factors throughout the airframe
design process as well as the following in-service life. These factors can only be
adequately satised when loading conditions, resulting stress distributions and
material properties are known. A question of design philosophy has to be linked to
this, which mainly depends on a components inspectability during service, its
repairability or replaceability in case of damage or its criticality towards loss of the
aircraft in case of the components failure. Meeting these criteria or not, very much
depends on either applying safe-life or damage-tolerant principles (gure 2).
Safe life means that the structure is designed such that it is able to withstand a
dened fatigue life, normally termed in ight hours, for a given load spectrum
without any inspection being required. Once the fatigue life has been achieved
and the load spectrum has not been exceeded, the component has to be replaced
irrespective of the fact that no damage has occurred so far. If loads have exceeded
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C. Boller and M. Buderath

the loading spectrum, the component has to be reassessed. This can be limited to
a numerical evaluation only, resulting in a reduced allowable fatigue life or may
even require specic inspection using non-destructive testing procedures.
Damage tolerant design allows for a damage to grow. This may be either
achieved such that a crack may grow at any time up to a certain length where it
will then be stopped by a crack stopper or the component will have fractured and
the loads transferred by that component will be transferred by some other
component (multiple load path). Damage tolerance can however also be based on
assuming a crack to be available at a badly inspectable location and to determine
how much the crack is allowed to grow until it nally reaches a critical stage.
3. The aircraft fatigue design process
(a ) The process by itself
Design of complex engineering structures such as aircraft is an iterative process.
It starts with the customer expressing the requirements, followed by a design
concept. This design concept then needs to be analysed which again may result in
modications to be made with regard to the customer requirements. This process
is also often termed as the design wheel.
Once the conceptual design is available more emphasis is laid on aspects such
as aerodynamics, weight or propulsion within the initial layout. It is only in a
next step called revised layout where structural design together with landing
gear (in the case of aircraft), cost and others becomes relevant. Solid-state
structural aspects therefore come in at a relatively late stage in design. The
major task with structures is to guarantee that structural integrity and
performance is guaranteed all throughout the life of the system designed. This
requires a good knowledge of past experience as well as powerful tools to estimate
future performance.
A more detailed view into the fatigue design process is given in gure 3. It
shows that fatigue analysis has to be done at least in two steps. Along the rst
step, a fatigue analysis is done which is based on the preliminary loading spectra,
being mainly based on the available g-spectrum and read across results from
past experience. This at least allows denition of rst allowable stress levels for
the different components being considered which again allows roughly the
appropriate fatigue design shape to be found. It is at this stage where the
so-called design allowables are generated. Experimental data required usually
come from data generated in the past on either the materials and components
considered or if not directly available, at least determined on similar materials.
In a limited number of cases, material or component data may be experimentally
generated at that stage.
Along a second step, fatigue analysis is done in further detail. This is when
stress analysis of the whole structure and thus detailed design has been done, and
thus load transfer functions as well as geometric limitations are known. Material
and component data need to be generated experimentally in case sufcient
experience has not been gathered up to that point of design.
Once an aircraft has been entirely designed, it is in principal ready to be built.
However, to fully understand how the complete aircraft structure performs under
close to real loading conditions, this structure has to be assessed on the ground
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2007)

composite set of
training missions

asymmetric manoeuvre
spectrum

design g-spectrum

fatigue analysis
= allowable stress levels

results of
component testing

loading spectra for


individual components

fatigue endurance data


e.g. SN data for
notched specimens
joints
lugs

fatigue analysis
calculation of:
safe fatigue life
reserve factor in stress

various updates
1. due to definition of FCS
and response calculations
2. due to flight load survey
unified stress analysis

Fatigue in aerostructures

preliminary loading
spectra
use of g-spectrum
read across from
previous projects

undercarriage usage
spectrum

selection of fatigue
critical section
detail stresses

detail design
stress concentration
surface treatment
etc.

Figure 3. Fatigue analysis process for a ghter airplane.

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Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2007)

basic fatigue life requirements


6000 flight hours over 25 years of A/C usage
fatigue life scatter factor of 3

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568

C. Boller and M. Buderath

Figure 4. Major airframe fatigue test (MAFT) setup of a ghter airplane.

along a major airframe (full scale) fatigue test (MAFT; gure 4). The airframe
structure is mounted on a test rig and is loaded repeatedly by different loading
cylinders according to the loading combinations and sequences for the duration
of the aircrafts qualied life times the security factor, which in the case of the
example shown in gure 3 would be 6000 ight hours!3Z18 000 ight hours.
The aircraft structure is inspected regularly and any cracks or damage monitored
is fed back for redesign of the aircraft structure or amendments to the
maintenance procedures.
A chronology of the aircraft structure fatigue verication process is given in
gure 5. It shows that loads and fatigue assessment are the result of an iterative
process and thus appear several times. It further shows that MAFT is not even
nished when the rst ight is done and may even not be nished when the rst
aircraft enters into service with the customer.
Since the operational life of military aircraft has increased signicantly over the
past years with 50 years due to become standard and up to 100 years to be
discussed for specic cases (e.g. the B-52 bombers) a fatigue assessment becomes
appropriate once the aircraft type is close to reaching its mid-operational life. This
is mainly required because operational loads resulting from aircraft modications,
change in payloads, ight envelops or ight environment may have signicantly
changed over that rst period of the operational life and may have implications on
the aircrafts remaining operational life. In some of the cases, an aircraft structure
taken out of service is therefore reassessed in a so-called mid-life update MAFT.
4. The aircraft structure support process
(a ) Inspection sequences
Aircraft, civil as well as military, are inspected according to well-prescribed
procedures. It starts with a pre- and post-ight visual inspection of the aircraft
and ends up in a full dismantling or at least disassembly of major components
such that fatigue, corrosion or wear can be determined at any of the damage
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Fatigue in aerostructures

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start of development phase


preliminary static load cases
preliminary fatigue load spectra
preliminary fatigue allowables
first update of fatigue load spectra
results of fatigue tests of
coupons and components
update of fatigue load allowables
detail drawings completed
start of manufacturing
further update of load spectra
full scale static test
first flight

detailed fatigue analysis

start of full scale fatigue test


end of full scale fatigue test

test resultsmodifications

Figure 5. Chronology of the aircraft fatigue verication process.

critical locations. In the latter case, visual inspection is highly supported by


visualization aids such as borescopes, dye penetrants and non-destructive testing
techniques (NDT) with the latter including techniques such as ultrasonics and
eddy current. Inspection intervals are usually dened according to ight hours
used and partially also according to days of operation. This is incidentally
amended by the pilots judgements, in case they may have faced a situation
damaging the aircraft.
With damage tolerant aircraft, the inspection interval is also dened according
to the allowable crack propagation life. Based on an initial crack size that may
still not be detectable by conventional means, crack propagation life is calculated
up to the point where the crack will become critical. Divided by a safety factor,
this then denes the true inspection interval which can be either matched with
the overall maintenance sequence or requires a redesign of the component such
that the inspection interval becomes longer and the overall maintenance
sequence can be matched.
(b ) Estimation of crack length in damage tolerant structures
Allowable crack lengths are dened regarding the circumstances of how
they can be reliably detected. Examples include complex lapped joints where
the crack may have to grow a substantial period of time and thus have to
achieve a length of possibly tens of millimetres until it can be reliably
detected on the surface. A signicantly long crack has therefore to be assumed
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C. Boller and M. Buderath

as an initial crack for determining the allowable crack propagation life. If the
initial crack length could be determined at shorter length the allowable crack
propagation life would become longer, which would result in longer inspection
intervals or, if this is not desirable, in higher allowable stresses which would
result in lower weight.
The same phenomenon exists with complex inaccessible structural components. An example for this is frames and stringers behind galleys and toilets.
Since the effort is too high to dismantle the galleys and toilets for inspecting the
frames and stringers integrity, the frames and stringers have to be considered to
be fully broken for the damage tolerance analysis and the detectable initial crack
is a small crack on the fuselage panels surface that once being there, propagates
at relatively high speed and thus only allows for a relatively short inspection
interval. If these stringers or frames were inspectable, a much longer crack
propagation life, and thus inspection interval, could be allowed (Schmidt &
Schmidt-Brandecker 2001).
(c ) Changes in operational conditions
A review of the usage experience of specically ghter aircraft reveals that a
number of features are changing within the lifetime of the aircraft where the
following can have specically an inuence on loads:
mission changed or added,
ight envelope expanded,
role equipment changed or added,
increased weight,
conguration changes,
increased engine thrust, and
possibly others.
These changes become obvious when looking at the different variants of a
ghter aircraft having been introduced after it has been launched where a sample
of such a scenario is shown for the Panavia Tornado in gure 6.
This enhanced generation of variants has further justied the implementation
of load monitoring systems, of which the rst generation has been introduced
with Panavia Tornados.
Civil aircraft are usually anticipating less variation in their design over the
lifetime especially with regard to their operational conditions. The major operational
change is the conversion of civil airliners such as the Airbus A300 and A310 or
Boeing 727, 747, 757 or 767 from passenger to cargo congurations, or recently also
the consideration to convert used Boeing 767 into air refuelling tankers.
(d ) Loads monitoring and resulting implications
As mentioned above, operational loads monitoring systems
increasingly popular with ghter aircraft (Krau 1988; Hunt &
and have partially also been considered and developed for
(Ladda & Meyer 1991). Major tasks and objectives for loads
ghter aircraft include
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2007)

are becoming
Hebden 2001)
civil aircraft
monitoring in

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Fatigue in aerostructures
UK ADV (CSP)
UK ADV

UK IDS
GR1

UK ADV

UK RECCE
GR1A

MARITIME
GR1B

UK RECCE
GR1A
MARITIME
GR1B
UK IDS GR1
UK MLU
GR4

UK MLU
GR4A RECCE

GE IDS
GE RECCE
GE ECR

GE IDS
GE RECCE
GE ECR

IT IDS

IT IDS
IT ECR
80

81 82 83 84 85

86

87 88 89

90 91

92 93 94 95 96 97

98 99

Figure 6. Different conguration standards within the Panavia Tornado eet.

in-service measurements,
fatigue life evaluation, and
maintenance planning.
Data recorded include either the time domain strain signal monitored by a
strain gauge at a dened location or the time domain signal from a variety of
sensors already built in for monitoring ight parameters which are then used to
determine the load sequence by use of the aircrafts load transfer functions. Data
recorded on the aircraft are downloaded by a ground-loading unit and are
processed accordingly. This is mainly done in the way that a rainow cycle
counting procedure is applied to identify the different cycles, which are then
accumulated and stored in the respective rainow matrix that nally allows one
to characterize the loading spectrum the aircraft has gone through.
Recording and processing of all these data can accumulate a signicant
amount of work and it is thus that strategies have been developed which include
the following three types of aircraft tracking:
individual aircraft tracking (IAT),
selected aircraft tracking (SAT), and
temporary aircraft tracking (TAT).
IAT is performed on 100% of the aircraft and is based on a limited set of data
called the pilot parameter set (PPS). SAT is only performed on 10% of the
aircraft and includes recording of the full parameter set (FPS). TAT is performed
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C. Boller and M. Buderath


MAFT
MAFT

1400
1200
MAFT

Squadrons
squadrons

1000
800
load (kN)

squadrons

In Service SAT
in-service
SAT

600
400

in-service SAT

200
0

200
400
600
0

1.0

1.0 103
1.0 104
1.0 102
accumulated cycles /1000 flight hours

1.0 10 5

1.0 106

Figure 7. Comparison of MAFT load spectrum compared with spectra recorded in different
squadrons.

on less than 10% of the aircraft (sometimes even just 1%) and includes FPS
extended by strain measurements at highly specied locations on the aircraft.
The principal idea behind this concept is to validate the fatigue consumption
calculation with the limited amount of ight data available through the
calculation performed by FPS.
The loads data monitored are of multiple values. In a rst step, they can be used
for comparing the actual load spectrum own with the design or qualication
spectrum such as used along MAFT (gure 7). The data shown in gure 7 indicate
that the squadrons have so far neither exceeded their MAFT qualication
spectrum nor are they own as severe as the MAFT spectrum has been congured
to be. Furthermore, the squadrons IAT spectra tend to be slightly more
conservative when compared to the more detailed in-service SAT data. With
respect to prognostics, the monitored spectra can be used to extrapolate the
spectrum up to the incident when the initially dened fatigue life expressed in ight
hours has been achieved. Further to that it allows determination in a prognostic
sense of how much residual life may still exist in a case where the prescribed
number of ight hours has already been achieved but the spectrum the aircraft
experienced was less severe when compared to the design spectrum.
(e ) Mid-life updates
Mid-life updates are measures more popular with regard to military aircraft.
It stems from the fact that military aircraft are own over a much longer
period when compared to commercial aircraft and that the operational
environment as well as technology itself has signicantly changed over time.
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Fatigue in aerostructures

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It has, therefore, become increasingly popular with some aircraft to revisit the
whole aircraft system regarding the aircraft equipment and design. With
Panavia Tornado, this has been done mainly as a result of using this aircraft in
many more roles and ight durations than anticipated initially; ying it in
and even exporting it to regions of the world possibly never considered
initially, and upgrading it with a variety of new avionics, electronics and
reconnaissance equipment.
With respect to the aircrafts structure, this has resulted in reperforming a
MAFT with a signicantly used aircraft taken out of service to mainly determine
the residual life as well as the locations the aircraft structure might be prone to
fatigue damage in the longer term. Further to this, maintenance plans have been
established according to which major components of the safe-life designed
aircraft are replaced by new ones. Although these components do not show any
cracking, as a result of the well-known scatter in fatigue life they may last much
longer than the operational lives achieved, the components have to be removed
because they have been designed to be crack free.
(f ) Ageing aircraft
The ageing aircraft issue discussed more from an academic point of view
for a decade so far became fully apparent through the Aloha Airlines Boeing
737-200 accident in 1988. Up to that time damage (e.g. cracks) was
considered to appear at single stress raisers such as rivet holes and crack
propagation was assumed to start from a single crack which nally also
dened the inspection period (gure 8). What was not considered was the
fact that in an aged and thus signicantly loaded structure with a variety of
notches such as a rivet line, the likelihood of more than one crack generating
from each of the different holes is signicantly increased when compared to
the pristine material. This multi-cracked conguration, which has also been
denominated as multi-site damage, leads to a much shorter crack
propagation life, which is schematically shown in gure 8 and has to be
considered with regard to the inspection intervals whenever operation of an
ageing aircraft is considered.
The conclusion from years of assessing aged aircraft was that aircraft can be
inspected according to the traditional procedures up to a dened age but then
have to be inspected more carefully. This more detailed and mainly more
frequent inspection does not have to take place for the whole aircraft but for
specic components and areas of the aircraft which are specically prone to
damage. Figure 9 shows, as an example, some of the areas which have been
identied in that regard for the Airbus A300.
An aspect to be mentioned in that regard is the management of the aircraft
airworthiness within the ageing aircraft process. Major activities within this
include:
direct inspections with regard to fatigue cracks,
direct inspections and sampling programmes to determine the condition of the
aircraft structure as well as its equipment, and
prepare corrosion prevention plans (CPP).
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C. Boller and M. Buderath


rivet
assumed crack length

real crack length


crack
length

crack growth
periods

initiation
of MSD
single crack

MSD

Onset
of MSD

strength
ultimate

critical

residual
single crack
multiple cracks
flights

detectable
life (flights)

normal inspection

special MSD further


inspections actions

Figure 8. Multi-site damage and consequences.

stringer run-outs
longitudinal and
circumferential joints

front pressure
bulkhead

successive frames

wing/fuselage
attachment
nose landing gear bay
Figure 9. Fatigue damage susceptible areas in ageing Airbus A300 aircraft.

The importance of these activities increases signicantly with the age of the
aircraft, which mainly results in an increase of information handling and
processing. The directions issued with regard to detecting fatigue cracks depend
greatly on the monitoring techniques being available, while the sampling
programmes turn out to become a knowledge base for any experience gathered
with the aircraft eet and hopefully shared among the different aircraft operators
as well as the aircraft assembler, maintenance organizations and airworthiness
authorities. It is only on the basis of such a knowledge base that effective CPPs
as well as repair methods can be congured, certied and nally applied.
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(g ) Engineering support systems


As a consequence of the various monitoring systems implemented into aircraft
nowadays or being a part of the aircrafts integrity certication process, concepts
and initiatives have emerged that are intended to handle the data ow on ground
as well as the follow-on logistic processes. Derived from the strong SHM initiative
around the Euroghter Typhoon aircraft, analysis and synergy has to be
established based on information being generated from the following tools,
systems and actions:
aircraft system health (ASH),
structural health monitoring (SHM),
engine health monitoring (EHM),
secondary power system health monitoring (SPS),
logistic software package (EFLog),
non-destructive inspections (NDI),
experience capturing systems (ExCS), and
aircraft integrated systems (AIS).
Information regarding all this is currently downloaded by different means and
protocols and it is a major need to get this better standardized not just for one
type of aircraft, such as is again proposed for the Euroghter Typhoon in
gure 10, but also across the different aircraft types including xed and rotary
wing aircraft from the civil as well as the military sector.
This major issue is currently trying to be tackled by an EU-funded Integrated
Project entitled TATEM along the 6th Framework Programme that started in
March 2004 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/fp6/projects.cfm). It is only
with more standardized processes of the type proposed here that information
generated can be better used in a way that follow-on logistic actions such as the
provision of spare parts and maintenance personnel can be done effectively and
advanced technology such as wireless communication, web-based logistics and
troubleshooting and last but not least the integration of further advanced sensing
into aircraft structures and systems can be brought further ahead. The latter will
be discussed in more detail below.
5. Advanced aircraft structural health monitoring
The way aircraft are monitored today has not very much changed over the past
decades (Ladda & Meyer 1991). Most of the monitoring is done by visual inspection
supported by other NDT such as ultrasonics and eddy current. Monitoring is done at
prescribed intervals which are dened by the weakest links in the aircraft system. As
a consequence a huge amount of information is generated, which needs to be
processed directly by the maintenance personnel involved. In close to 100% of the
cases, the information is always the same: no damage found. Further to this, the
major effort in achieving this information is related to dismantling and reassembling
the aircraft structure to get access to the component considered. Is this huge amount
of effort required to get such little information? Are there no easier means to obtain
this information in a more efcient way? In many cases, we even replace the
component with no sign of damage only because we do not consider any means to
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2007)

576

RIU
(reconfigurable interface)

ASH
aircraft system health

EHM
engine health monitoring

PMDS/ MDP
arising
off aircraft data

SPS(HM)
secondary power system
health monitoring

arising
ASH
SHM

arising
consumption data

EFLogSW
Eurofighter logistics software
packages

EHM

ExCS
LOG

SPS

NDI

AIS
(2*)

System services
system
Services

maintenance work order


interface
to industry [server]

industry

Figure 10. Engineering support system information process routes for Euroghter Typhoon.

C. Boller and M. Buderath

SHM
structural health monitoring

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receive more continuous information from these components. In Valeika (2003), this
is compared to a situation where all kidneys would have to be replaced for all
55-year-old people because in 0.1% of the cases damage to kidneys has been
observed. Why do not we apply such principles for human beings also on aircraft?
The answer is quite simple. Human beings have orders of magnitude more sensors
than aircraft have. Their sensors are orders of magnitude more primitive than the
few sensors we use today in aircraft. Sensors in human beings are highly redundant
while the ones in aircraft are mainly not. Biologic sensors can regenerate themselves
by self-healing which the ones in engineering cannot. These are just some of the
differences between biology and engineering, so the logic questions with respect to a
revolution in maintenance technology arising from this are as follows.
Can we integrate sensors into the structure that will give us more efcient
information than we have today?
Are there low-cost simple sensors around which can be integrated into structures
in high quantities and would provide the sufcient redundancy?
Will it be possible to process the high quantity of information generated?
Will this revolution in maintenance through structure-integrated monitoring be
benecial for the operator without compromising safety?
The answer to all of these four questions is: yes. An explanation on how this can
be achieved is given subsequently in conjunction with what can be denominated as
advanced aircraft SHM.
SHM is considered today to be the integration of sensors into structural
components that allow continuous monitoring of the structure combined with
automated advanced signal processing. To keep consistency with established designs
in engineering, SHM is based on the engineering design principles applied nowadays
and tries to automate and extend the monitoring process to the benet of the
engineering system considered. It uses sensors such as optical bres, piezoelectric
elements, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) or possibly even nanostructures to just name some of the ones being mentioned most. These sensors allow
monitoring of strains, acoustics, electrical elds, temperature, pressure, humidity,
chemicals and possibly more. Information is retrieved either by wires but more
recently even wireless. Sensor signals are processed using advanced data acquisition
cards and multiplexers combined with FFT-analysers, wavelets, genetic algorithms
and articial neural networks to again just mention a few. Further information on
what is ongoing can be found in a textbook (Staszewski et al. 2003) as well as in the
proceedings of conferences (Balageas 2002; Chang 2003).
(a ) What could be monitored?
Since design principles in engineering are very much established and
monitoring is just a consequence from all this, the central question with regard
to monitoring results in: what are the design parameters which we have to
assume in design and which we are thus most lacking, with regard to more light
weight and cost-effective design?
All structural designs are based on loads (static as well as cyclic) which we have to
assume prior to conguring the structure. These loads do not have to be limited to
mechanical loads only. They can also include other environmental loads such as
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C. Boller and M. Buderath

temperature, humidity, chemical corrosives, etc. We then impose a safety factor


which has to cover all uncertainties we have with these loads. If we could, however,
have more information on when which load occurs (i.e. the real load sequence), we
could reduce the original safety factor since safety would be covered by the additional
information provided. This would allow us lighter weight design without
compromising safety. The means being required here is therefore loads monitoring.
The other phenomenon that needs to be monitored and which is a consequence
from our design is damage. Damage needs to be monitored because
operational loads as well as material properties are subject to scatter, which as a
consequence can inuence the incident of damage initiation as well as the period
of damage propagation signicantly,
loading of the structure can go beyond design allowables (overloading) either by
accident or intentionally with respect to enhancements or life extensions, and
damage is allowed to occur in a controlled way (fail-safe and damage
tolerance).
Today, this is solved by large and obviously also costly inspection initiatives,
where the cost could be reduced through automation without compromising safety.
The means therefore considered here are damage monitoring.
Recent development in sensing and sensor signal processing technology gives
rise to what has been and could be done for the enhancement of loads and damage
monitoring and is thus summarized in the following.
(b ) Loads monitoring
The way loads are currently monitored in aircraft is either by implementing the
strain gauges at well-selected locations or by using the ight parameters monitored
on the aircraft. In both the cases, either strain gauge or ight parameter based, the
information recorded and downloaded on the ground is fed into a digital model,
which is mainly the loads model of the aircraft structure on a nite element (FE)
basis. This load information can then be used to virtually calculate the damage
accumulated at any location of the aircraft structure. The problem with the
current loads monitoring systems is, however, that loads are monitored at fewer
locations than this should be with respect to the aircrafts complexity. The
Euroghter Typhoons structural loads are monitored with just 16 strain gauges
being implemented over the whole structure of the aircraft. The major driver for
that limited number of sensors is restrictions in data storage and processing.
However, these decisions were taken in the past with the respective technology of
that time. In terms of technology available nowadays, this looks to be far too little
sensing and any further improvement loads monitoring may be able to achieve has
to be seen in the context of the following.
Clear identication of the areas (e.g. notches, joints, lugs, ttings, etc.) of the
structure being prone to damage.
Monitoring of the load sequence in or very close to the areas being prone to
damage, not only on a single- but also on a multi-axis basis such that the load
sequence provided is similar in quality to a load sequence having just been
measured in the notch to be monitored.
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Fatigue in aerostructures

579

Figure 11. Stress distribution of a ghter centre fuselage frame.

The former can be achieved by a clear structural analysis. Current software


analysis nowadays allows the mapping of a structure with respect to stress and strain
concentrations, as well as damage having been accumulated. The result is some
colourful pictures of which an example is shown in gure 11. These pictures allow one
to select and decide upon the locations worth monitoring with regard to their load
sequence that is then fed into a FE analysis and a follow-on fatigue life calculation.
One of the limitations in using electrical strain gauges for strain monitoring is
their relatively high amount of wiring. Two wires are required for each sensor.
A much more elegant method in monitoring exists with bre optic sensors and here
specically with bre Bragg grating (FBG) sensors. These sensors have the
advantage of being light weight, having all passive congurations, low power
utilization, immunity to electromagnetic interference, high sensitivity and
bandwidth, compatibility with optical data transmission and processing, long
lifetimes and low cost (as long as one uses silicon bres). Their disadvantages
mainly appear when being integrated into a material such as a composite where
repairability of the sensor is mainly excluded. The overwhelming advantage of
FBG sensors is however that they can all be lined up as hundreds and even
thousands of sensors along a single optical bre and each can still be identied due
to their different grating pattern and thus be multiplexed. Applicability of this
method has been proven in a variety of cases where test cases on real aircraft
structures have been described (Trutzel 2000; Betz et al. 2001). Similar results of
success are reported with the integration of FBG sensors into a composite hull air
cushion catamaran (Johnson et al. 1999). Work is still ongoing with regard to fully
integrating such a sensing system into a diagnostic and prognostic system.
FBG sensors have a further advantage that they are able to also monitor
temperature as well as pressure. With temperature and pressure proles being able
to be recorded, this allows one to get a broader picture of a structures loading
environment.
Another type of sensor of interest for loads monitoring is MEMS. These are
small micro-machined sensors on a silicon basis that allow conversion of thermal,
mechanical, magnetic or electrostatic energy into electrical signals and thus allow
monitoring of a variety of parameters such as strain, temperature, vibrations,
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C. Boller and M. Buderath

humidity, pressure and even a variety of different type of liquids. So far, MEMS
sensors have been specically developed for corrosion monitoring (Wilson et al.
2001) and are currently evaluated in a longer-term in-service test on a Delta
Airlines Boeing 767 (Trego 2003).
(c ) Damage monitoring
Damage is monitored by non-destructive means. Conventionally, this requires
dismantling of most of the structural system since most of the areas prone to
damage are very much hidden and thus difcult to access. It is therefore more
dismantling and reassembly which cause the relatively large effort for inspection
when compared with the monitoring effort for nding the damage itself with an
NDT technique. Sensors fully integrated or adapted to the structure to be
monitored that remotely send out the monitoring signal upon request can therefore
help minimize the current dis- and reassembly effort required to the situation
where damage is truly detected and repair is unavoidable.
To nd out where sensors may be useful for integration and where sensors can
be avoided, the stress distribution map such as shown in gure 11 and specically a
damage distribution map of the structure is required as the rst step. Further to
this, any recordings from scheduled maintenance may be useful, that allow
underlining of the analytical results or extension of the information pool, which is
specically relevant when considering corrosion damage.
Monitoring with structure-integrated sensors can be done on the basis of a
variety of different physical parameters. To keep compatibility with state-of-theart NDT techniques in aeronautics, ultrasonics and eddy current are the most
popular techniques.
Ultrasonic and thus acoustic waves can be sent into structures by attaching
and/or integrating piezoelectric elements to and/or into a structural component.
Acoustic waves are sent out by the piezoelectric element where Lamb waves are
possibly one of the most efcient since they operate as guided waves. The reected
and/or transmitted signal can then be again recorded by a piezoelectric element.
Systems like this have been made commercially available such as the Smart
Layere from Acellent Technologies (http://www.acellent.com) where piezoelectric elements are positioned according to structural needs on a Kapton
Layer and are electrically wired by copper wiring using PCB techniques for the
manufacturing process. A variety of aircraft components have been monitored this
way where examples are given in Boller et al. (2001) and Betz et al. (2004).
The acoustic waves emitted do not necessarily have to be sensed by piezoelectric
elements. Fibre optic sensors will do it as well and here specically FBG sensors
are catching up (Ihn & Chang 2004). This type of sensor will be specically
considered in areas where electromagnetic interference may be of concern or where
other parameters may be useful to be monitored with the same sensor (e.g. strain
or temperature). MEMS is another type of sensor that can be used in that context
as well. A very fast and efcient way of monitoring is also laser scanning
vibrometry (Staszewski et al. 2004). In that case, a laser scans the surface of the
component to be monitored with respect to the Lamb wave going through and can
thus detect changes in the Lamb wave propagation due to damage. This method is
however limited in having the surface of the component accessible, i.e. the effort of
dismantling and reassembly may often still prevail.
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Fatigue in aerostructures

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There are also eddy current sensors and arrays available that can be attached to
structures (Washabaugh et al. 2002). These sensors are shaped-eld sensors designed
as conductive metallic windings which are placed on a carrier such as Kaptone using
micro-fabrication techniques. A magnetic eld is generated from one of these
windings which is then recorded by the other windings. This allows monitoring of
crack propagation in metallic structures. The system can also be extended to a highresolution eddy current imaging system by introducing a single spatial wavelength or
periodic, square-wave inductive drive winding with a linear array of inductive sensing
elements. Further to this, the wavelength of the magnetic wave can be varied which
allows detection of cracks, inclusions and corrosion even in thicker metallic
components. The system has been proven to work on cracked aluminium panels,
around rivet holes and on a C-130 ight deck chine plate.
There are also the more passive methods being discussed, where acoustic
emission is possibly the most widely explored (http://www.ultra-scs.com; Saniger &
Dupuis 2002). This method, which listens to the noise being generated through
a crack by monitoring the respective stress waves being generated allows one to
use the piezoelectric elements mentioned before. However, these stress waves are
only generated when either high loads are applied to the structure, which is
relatively seldom in the case of the randomly loaded structures of an aircraft, or
the structure may be signicantly aged such that the condition of ageing may turn
out to be critical. Further to this, the system must be alert at any time during
in-service so to not miss any of these seldom events. Black outs are therefore not
allowed. Finally, suitable ltering techniques have to be applied such that the
signal resulting from damage can be clearly identied from any other noisy signals
being around. Independent of all this, it may be worth observing the research effort
generated in that eld.
(d ) Systems monitoring
Health monitoring in engineering is not limited to structures only. It also
includes full systems and it may be specically this area where everything
regarding SHM started. Monitoring of gears is one of the big initial areas where
vibrations are monitored and characterized on the basis of frequency spectra and
where changes in these spectra can be related to specic types of damage.
Jet engines have traditionally been monitored for a long time and engine
condition monitoring (ECM) is nowadays standard in jet engines. Systems used in
that regard include the full authority digital control (FADEC), the remote data
concentrator (RDC), the engines spool speed, engine distress monitoring system
(EDMS) and the ingested debris monitoring system (IDMS) (gure 12). With
respect to ECM one of the major philosophies is to take data from control, which
are then fed into the thermodynamic model of the engine and allows parameters
related to engine, compressor and turbine efciency to be determined. These
parameters are observed over time, which allow trends to be recognized. However,
trends based on a single or very limited number of sensors often turn out to be not
sufcient which is why pattern recognition combined with neural networks has
turned out to be of great value. In that case, data from FADEC, RDC and the
engines spool speed have been combined. EDMS and IDMS are sensors that
monitor debris in real time. IDMS monitors the quality of air coming into the
engine, which is an important information regarding environmental loads the
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C. Boller and M. Buderath


ring 1

ring 2

exhaust sensor

FADEC
IDMS
RDC

spool
speed
RDC

EDMS
RDC

local bus
(a)

(b)

intake (FOD) signal

exhaust sensor signal


level

ring
1 amp.
EHM system
processor

ring
2 amp.

amplitude
frequency

time

the intake system

the exhaust system

Figure 12. Different sources of information for gas turbine monitoring (Fisher 1997).

engine has to withstand. It allows determination of which deterioration the engine


must have suffered. EDMS monitors the quality of air coming out of the engine
with regard to debris and allows determination of whether these debris are
resulting from the air the engine is operating in or from any deterioration inside
the engine, such as wear of abradable seals and coatings, high levels or carbon
being produced, debris-producing faults in the gas path, such as blade rubs,
combustor faults, seal break-up or others. It may be interesting to report that this
debris monitoring information allows a better prediction of the engines condition
compared to most of the vibration or strain sequence monitoring. Owing to the
extreme operational conditions, structure-integrated non-destructive monitoring
techniques can be mainly excluded. More detailed information regarding engine
monitoring can be found among others in Fisher (1997).
For helicopters, HUMS have been developed and introduced for around three
decades now and HUMS has become a standard equipment in any newly delivered
large helicopter. The HUMS is mainly based on monitoring vibrations generated in
components such as gears, shafts and couplings, bearings, rotors, and any further
components critical for the ight performance. Data are continuously recorded
using accelerometers based on piezoelectrics as described before, processed and
compared to a threshold value that describes the allowable damage. Figure 13
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Fatigue in aerostructures
kurtosis

time
Figure 13. Monitoring of a helicopter-bull gear pinion shown as fourth statistical moment
(kurtosis) over time (Larder 1999).

shows such an example where early damage could be clearly identied. All data
recorded are summarized in a database which allows one to gather experience and
to observe specic trends that can further help to improve HUMS.
The need for HUMS in helicopters and getting HUMS implemented into
helicopters already straight away has also driven the idea of an integrated system.
Figure 14 shows the concept with regard to what equipment is required onboard.
As well as accelerometers a main processor unit, a RDC, a cockpit display unit and
a data transfer unit are required, where some of the units may already be on the
helicopter for other purposes. Data are then downloaded on the ground using
either a PCMCIA card, the internet or any other type of networking standards
which then allow one to further process the data in the ground based system and to
store the data in the database.
An issue not to forget is all activity related to regulatory bodies. All components
integrated in the aircraft need to get airworthiness approval and specically if they
are due to operate during ight. Regulatory authorities can be of great help for
implementing advanced technologies, especially if the benets and needs are obvious,
which is denitely the case when reliability of the system such as a helicopter is
improved. The regulation authorities are therefore continuously working on making
HUMS mandatory in helicopters. Further details regarding this can be found at
http://aar400.tc.faa.gov/Programs/agingaircraft/rotorcraft/index.htm.

6. Quantied benets of structural health monitoring and


how to analyse them
Although SHM is still in the area of research to a large extent, benets to be expected
are most likely. This has already been proven to some degree for jet engines where the
integration of sensing has already led to extended twin operations safety for an
aircraft to operate on a single engine beyond 180 min or the extension of intervals
between overhauls. With respect to helicopters, the UK Civil Aviation Authority
analysed 63 airworthiness related issues from North Sea helicopter operators (McColl
1997), of which 70% were successfully detected by HUMS. Six of the issues that had
been successfully picked up by HUMS were categorized as potentially catastrophic
and hazardous, and estimated that one or two of them may have ended up in
accidental failure had the HUMS system not been available.
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C. Boller and M. Buderath

aircraft
signals
tracker

body
acceleration

accelerations
(Ng, Np, Nr)

remote data
concentrator

accelerometers and
track / index sensors

cockpit
display unit
main
processor unit
aircraft signals
ARINC 429

data communication
card (PCMCIA)

ground based
system

RS-422

Figure 14. HUMS equipment proposed for UH-60 (courtesy of BF Goodrich; Watson 2000).

In Staszewski et al. (2003), an example is given as to how far structure


integrated damage monitoring can be benecial with respect to reducing the
inspection cost. The conclusion has been that even though such damage
monitoring systems are currently still mainly available as a hand-made solution
only, they already signicantly pay-off in areas where signicant effort in
dismantling and reassembly is required before the component to be monitored
can be reached. Benets with respect to allowable operational stress of the order of
20% or more are also predicted with respect to using SHM for extending the idea of
damage tolerance design (Schmidt & Schmidt-Brandecker 2001).
In addition to automating the inspection process, there is 20% weight reduction
expected for specic components through SHM by expanding the damage
tolerance principle (Schmidt & Schmidt-Brandecker 2001). This is currently
under evaluation and if this number can be proven to be true, SHM will have a
signicant impact on any future aircraft design.
Generally, analysis of each aircraft type can be advised with respect to the
locations prone to damage, the effort related to dismantling and reassembly, the
maintenance process itself and the implications SHM would have in automating
the inspection process. This evaluation procedure is currently done with too little
effort or even not at all. However, going through that assessment would much
more clearly show where the potentials are and where the engineering community
developing these SHM systems should truly focus on.
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Fatigue in aerostructures

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(a ) Technological threats and challenges


SHM-related technological development described above is far from being at the
limits. There is a variety of further materials and signal processing threats along the
technology development road. However, as long as benets of SHM have not been
clearly evaluated and communicated, pursuing these threats may not be much worth
doing. Much consideration will, however, be required to get the sensing and actuation
devices attached onto or integrated into the structural material in an appropriate,
reliable and cost-effective way. Further threats can be seen with respect to providing
energy to the respective elements. This will become specically important if wireless
communication is considered. Will batteries be required or can the system charge
itself through energy harvesting from the structure? Wireless technology will play
another important factor with increasing numbers of sensors and this becomes more
and more relevant when size and cost of the sensors decrease. Such technology will
further promote development of smart sensing coatings that can be easily integrated
into or attached onto the structures to be monitored. With nanotechnologies
emerging, the rst candidate materials already seem to be on the horizon.
7. Conclusions
Maintenance of aircraft is a complex process that has consolidated over the past
decades signicantly. This complexity combined with all the safety and reliability
issues related to it have made this process difcult to modify. However, this
complexity should not prevent one from continuously questioning the different
steps performed with respect to advanced technology being provided.
The variety of activities mentioned in this article with regard to designing,
monitoring and managing fatigue or deterioration in general of aircraft and
specically their structures show that structural integrity combined with ageing
issues is a major concern. Despite this signicant activity, the process is
unfortunately not complete, mainly due to the fact that the interface between
fatigue monitoring systems, the subsequent management of aircraft life limitations
and repair limits is still missing. A broader thinking in terms of life-cycle cost has
become highly important.
Advanced sensing, materials and data processing technology are possibly the
biggest challenges to be seen in revolutionizing the inspection process and in
automating the procedure leading to the most common information of no failure
found. In case this automation can be achieved then a further, and possibly much
bigger, potential can be seen in the extension of the damage tolerance principle
such that signicant components of the airframe structure can achieve remarkable
weight savings. Further pursuing this way will allow new materials, manufacturing
and repair techniques to be easier certied and more efciently applied. There is
therefore big potential still available waiting to be explored.
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