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Ensuring Flightworthiness with Ultrasonic Testing for Jets and Spacecraft

ultrasonic testing for jets and spacecraft

The speed of modern aircraft—whether passenger, commercial, or military—is far beyond what early aviators invented. The power of modern spacecraft exceeds even the boldest imaginations of early sci-fi writers. But speed and power come with a price: the aircraft has to be able to withstand incredible pressures without a single flaw. If something goes wrong, a catastrophe could follow. 

That’s why ultrasonic testing for jets and spacecraft is so valuable. Being able to detect even the smallest flaws could save lives and fortunes. And, the speed and efficiency of the right non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques mean dramatically reducing overhead costs and downtime, and exceeding regulatory standards. 

Why Non-Destructive Testing of Aircraft Is Crucial to Uptime

The need to test aircraft and spacecraft isn’t exactly controversial. It is typically understood that keeping aircraft in top condition is crucial for optimal performance. However, the uncertainty often revolves around how often to test, and what disruption—if any—will that testing cause on overall fleet efficiency. 

NDT is widely used in the aviation industry because the right equipment is able to quickly inspect a huge variety of different surfaces and structures without causing disruptions. These materials often include the body, the wheels, flat surfaces, curved surfaces, and the tens of thousands of joints, hinges, and connectors that make up a plane. Proper NDT techniques and equipment yield accurate 3D digitized images of the entire scanned area, inside and out. These scans can reveal fractures and fissures that, if not caught, may lead to even greater problems. 

In addition to accuracy and flaw detection, another benefit of aviation NDT is speed. With the right equipment, a technician can scan large surfaces relatively quickly, almost instantly creating the image. The time saved helps get aircraft back in flight sooner—compared to other testing techniques. 

How it Works: A typical wingspan of a classic space shuttle is close to 80 feet. While newer models have smaller wings, any form of commercial or regular space travel will require sizeable wings and airfoils. Easy to use, fast NDT will allow private and public space aviation to inspect efficiently, accurately and be safer.

Understanding the Types of Ultrasonic Testing for Jets and Spacecraft 

An NDT method, ultrasonic testing (UT) for aircraft has become one the industry standards, especially when it comes to composites and honeycombs. It’s often mandatory, and many aircraft have to complete a non-destructive ultrasonic test on a defined schedule. But, not all ultrasonic tests are created equal. There is a wide variety of options within UT, and it is important that aerospace engineers know what will work for specific aircraft. 

The two primary types of ultrasonic testing are:

  • Standard ultrasonic testing: In this method, a single ultrasonic wave is generated. A fixed focal point and a fixed beam are used which is sufficient for most aircraft but may not be ideal for more complicated structures and geometries. 
  • Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing (PAUT): Unlike with standard testing, most common PAUT instruments usually use anywhere from 16-256 active channels for  enhanced, high performance inspection capabilities. A flexible scanner can cover broad surfaces and tight, complex areas, allowing technicians to create a 2D and 3D image of exteriors and interiors in a short amount of time. 

The widespread use of ultrasonic testing for jets and spacecraft has improved the probability of detection.

Improving the Probability of Detection to Maintain Uptime

Passenger aircraft need to be in the air for recreational travel, business travel, and auxiliary industry use. Air forces around the globe need to keep their planes flying to defend and advance their national interests. Spacecraft need to be maintained to allow travel around—and away from—the planet. These needs for flight require dependable testing, which demands the right automated test equipment for aerospace. When ultrasonic testing for jets and spacecraft is used correctly, detection rates can skyrocket. Minor flaws can be found and fixed before they cause a major accident or turn into issues requiring long-term grounding. 

When the probability of detection is increased, downtime is decreased. Ultrasonic testing for jets and spacecraft ensures flight worthiness for the aviation and aerospace industries. 

See our webinar on how phased array ultrasound and the time reversal technique are improving composite inspections and changing the aviation industry.

Zetec is a major provider of ultrasonic testing solutions for jets and spacecraft. Contact us today to ensure you can exceed regulations and stay in the sky.