"Gee whiz" technology

"Gee Whiz" Technology Part II By Fred Workley October 1998 Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. and director of Aircraft Appraisals at AvSOLUTIONS, both in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical...


The next two examples use predictive maintenance techniques. The first is checking the tightness of bolts and fasteners without ever removing them. This is done by ultrasonic sensors either applied to the bolt with a liquid coupling, or built-on sensors with wire to remote locations on the aircraft. The computer must interpret this information and store it for future comparisons to determine if the torque on that particular fastener has increased or decreased over time. The same kind of data, but continuous real-time information will have to be received from oxygen sensors that monitor the oxygen level in the ullage (air/hydrocarbon fuel vapors over the fuel) of the aircraft fuel tanks. An inerting gas, either carbon dioxide from a frozen liquid source or nitrogen is then metered into the tank to keep the fuel/air mixture and oxygen content below that which could support combustion. Aircraft maintenance technicians will have to correct the system data bus faults indicating the need for maintenance as identified by the data available to them through their computer interface.

But, you say that you only work on engines. Computers also will be a necessity for you to maintain engines. Get ready for the next generation of FADECs (full-authority digital engine controls), to monitor and manage engine performance. The next advance is the high-performance engine-control systems that are fully integrated into a single flight and propulsion system. It will be impossible to tell where the engine stops and the airframe begins. Electronic engine controls (EECs) are the present heart of the FADECs. However, they are serial digital links. Through fuzzy logic and neutral networks (no complete on or off), the central EEC can be eliminated and the result will be a fuel control viewed as a continuum. This will affect you because neutral systems require a new way of thinking. They will, with the aid of computers, improve the efficiency of troubleshooting based on diagnostic models of the fuel control system. Again, these systems will permit predictive maintenance.

Computers will play an ever-increasing role in aircraft maintenance. Another example is Micropower Impulse Radar — a technology that is available right now — all it needs is someone to make it commercially available. Micropower Impulse Radar (MIR) is pulsed radar with an ultra-wide band, but it emits short pulses. It is compact and built out of common electronic components with a cost of less than twenty dollars. This radar is based on the world's highest power laser system — the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) 100-trillion-watt Nova laser. The pulsed laser generates high-speed sub-nanosecond events that can be recorded. The radar has a special fast electronic circuitry for driving a 33 gigasample-per-second transit digitizer that records events. This new circuit makes this new small, low-power radar system possible. The first application will be a liquid fluid level sensing device (electronic dipsticks). The second application for aircraft will be through-wall imaging. The MIR pulse generation circuitry is ideal for radar systems. Each pulse is less than a billionth of a second, and each MIR emits about two million of these pulses per second. Actual pulse repetition rates are coded with random noise to reduce the possibility of interference from other radars. This means that each pulse is tuned to itself. The same pulse is used for transmitting that is used to receive the signal. The received signal can be sampled. With pulses so short, the MIR operates across a wider band of frequencies, thus giving it high-resolution accuracy. This results in less interference from other radars.

The MIR can operate for years on one AA battery. The reason for this is that current is only drawing extremely low power during the short and infrequent pulse time. Another advantage is that the microwaves emitted by the pulse are at extremely low microwatt level. The system is not triggered by background clutter. This radar is medically safe since the MIR emits less than one-millionth the energy of a cellular telephone. The antenna configuration for standard motion sensor will be only 1.5 inches.

Whether you respond to all this new technology with "Gee Whiz!" or, "No Way!" You will have to learn new ways and new lessons while using computers to "keep-em-flying."

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