NASA Will Use Cereal & Crayons to Test Engine Sensors
Technicians prepare a US Air Force C-17 for engine health monitoring tests as part of the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research program -- a collaboration by NASA, the Air Force, and Pratt & Whitney to create a sensor system for early diagnosis of engine problems. (Source: NASA)
Given the recent incidents not only with volanic ash, but planes getting into trouble hitting flocks of birds, this kind of testing is critical. Interesting choice of materials to test with. Any backstory on why cereal and crayons to simulate debris that a plane might encounter mid air?
Well, I'm impressed. I remember when all of those flights to and from Europe were cancelled. It's nice to see that someone is looking into improving our ability to detect the volcanic glass -- and thus probably avoid it. I know the flight folks were criticized from over-caution. With the sensors, the airlines will be able to determine whether there is actual danger or not.
Thanks for writing about this. It's good to see that warning systems for engines are being put into place. Like Beth, I also wonder why these particular materials were used--cereal and crayons. And when it comes to flying, I can't imagine what "over-caution" would mean.
Rob, I also remember when a lot of those flights were cancelled because of the volcano. I believe one of the big trade shows in Europe lost thousands of attendees because of it. I would imagine that some of the big carriers also lost money as a result of it.
BA flight 9 on June 24, 1982 demonstrated the very real danger; all four engines flamed out after encountering an ash cloud.
This seems like testing for minimum safe exposure to a heavy metal poison. I'd just as soon avoid it completely.
I like the idea of ever better engine damage detection. But there should be some attention paid to detecting hazards such as ash clouds from a distance, to better quantify the reach of the cloud. Instead of shutting down air travel over the entire continent, a much more narrow exlusion zone can be defined to minimize travel disruption while still completely avoiding the cloud.
This article was very interesting. The choice of materials used as stated in the article: "The cereal and crayons will leave a colorful trail of grains and wax that the researchers can see and study to gauge how well the sensors work." It kind of a "blood splatter pattern" for detecting the efficiency of the sensors. Quite clever if you ask me!
When you are going 500-600MPH, by the time the sensor has anything useful to tell you, the Engine has already suffered damage. These sensors would be more useful to help schedule maintainance of the Engines (e.g. knowing when the Engine has suffered enough cumulative wear and tear to need an overhaul).
Radar or Lidar mapping of the area in front of the plane seems much more useful for volcanic damage avoidance. It would let the pilot know that they need to climb or descend to avoid the cloud of debris. Even better, would be satellite mapping of areas or routes to avoid (just like weather, but tuned to detect airborne volcanic debris).
Water or snow entering the engine can be quite impressive. One night (way way back) I was in an airport tower and saw one of the big planes land on a runway that had a light dusting of snow. The explosion out the back of the engine was distressing (at least to me). Not seeing anyone even notice, I asked what had just happened, and they told me that it was a compressor stall from snow sucked up into the engine. Apparently it happens all the time.
TJ, what is interesting along those lines is that there have not been such sensors employed until now. Sensors will give us a better picture of what the restrictions should be. That and the detection of the clouds and their composition should allow a more fine grained safety zone definition.
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