New Methods Detect and Predict Fatigue-Related Aircraft Cracks

Diana Lados and Anthony Spangenberger of Worcester Polytechnic Institute analyze deformation in an aircraft aluminum alloy.

Researchers are developing tools and technology to detect the formation of cracks in aircraft components and monitor their progression. The team is conducting comprehensive testing and characterization studies to understand and monitor how tiny cracks are initiated and grow in metal components as they are subjected to repetitive strains and stresses similar to those that wings, fuselages, and other aircraft components experience in service.

Using a new imaging system, the team can view the initiation and propagation of cracks at the micro-scale while metal samples are stressed in a servo-hydraulic testing machine. These fatigue cracks can be detected both at the surface of metal samples, and also by using electromagnetic induction within the metal microstructure. With the knowledge gained, the team can develop new lightweight metal alloys that are more resistant to cracking, or in which small cracks are less likely to expand into larger fissures that would require a component to be repaired or replaced.