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Volume 46 | Issue 6 | July 2004


photo: Barbeque Master, Jay Levine.

Using an Air Force C-17 transport aircraft, Dryden engineers are researching a high-tech method of monitoring and diagnosing engine status that will enhance aircraft safety.
NASA Photo by Jim Ross

C-17 Wired for the Future

by Gray Creech
Dryden Public Affairs

Dryden researchers are investigating an improved, high-tech method of monitoring and diagnosing the status of jet engines, using a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at Edwards Air Force Base.

The effort, known as the C-17 Propulsion Health Monitoring project, seeks to identify and refine aircraft engine technologies aimed at making military and civilian aircraft safer and more reliable.

The C-17 is being used because the aircraft represents modern medium- and large-transport aircraft with quad-redundant digital flight control systems. These features offer maximum flexibility and redundancy for advanced intelligent systems research.

Project objectives include enhancing aircraft safety by enabling early detection of potentially damaging events that would not be discoverable by conventional means, and elimination or minimization of secondary damage.

Advanced engine sensors aboard the C-17 provide ultrasonic stress wave analysis that filters out all normal engine vibration, detecting only friction and shock events.

Electrostatic sensors located in engine inlet and exhaust sections monitor for debris and signal when potential debris passage is detected. The system then diagnoses ingested material in order to determine if a problem exists.

Future additions to the sensor suite include oil debris and engine vibration monitoring, and higher-resolution monitoring of engine compressor stage speeds.

Propulsion health monitoring could provide industry and the military with economic benefits by enabling comprehensive in-flight diagnosis and by eliminating the need for routine engine inspections.

The project is led by Dryden, with NASA funding all development and infrastructure components including aircraft flight time and support.

Other project participants include the U.S. Air Force's C-17 System Program office, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base; Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; Glenn Research Center, Cleveland; The Boeing Co., Long Beach, Calif., and St. Louis; and Pratt & Whitney, East Hartford, Conn.