17 June 2009

Plane safety boosted through RMIT research

Commercial Airliner in Flight

A technology developed at RMIT could help make flying safer and cheaper. Image © istockphoto.

Chairman of the CRC Association, Tony Staley AO, and CSIRO CEO, Dr Megan Clark, presented Dr Caleb White with his award

Chairman of the CRC Association, Tony Staley AO, and CSIRO CEO, Dr Megan Clark, presented Dr Caleb White with his award.

An innovative technology developed at RMIT University could allow real-time monitoring of the structural health of aircraft, enabling cracks in planes to be detected mid-flight.

Dr Caleb White has worked on developing a technology that imitates the human nervous system to sense structural faults as they occur.

Dr White, a research officer in the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, said the ability to monitor aircraft in real time would help both flight and maintenance crews.

“Continuous health monitoring would make flying safer and cheaper – it’s the next step for tomorrow’s aircraft,” he said.

“If an aircraft is damaged by hitting a bird on take-off, for example, this system would raise the alarm instantly, giving the crew a crucial window of time to take any action.

“The system would also help maintenance crews determine precisely which parts of an aircraft need attention, improving the efficiency of maintenance checks by making them more targeted.”

Dr White, who worked on the research with the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures (CRC-ACS), has extended a monitoring system developed in Australia for metal aircraft.

In recent years, large aircraft manufacturers have begun investing in carbon fibre composite structures, which could make their planes more than 20 per cent more fuel efficient than standard metal airliners.

Dr White has focused on enabling real-time monitoring of the new generation carbon-fibre jets, applying his system to aircraft parts made from the advanced composite materials and developing guidelines for aircraft designers.

His work has generated widespread interest, including from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).

Dr White was recently recognised as an outstanding early career scientist at the Cooperative Research Centres Association’s annual conference in Canberra, where he was one of just eight researchers from around Australia chosen to present.

The only engineer selected for the event, he won the prize for Best Three Minute Presentation at the Awards for Excellence in Innovation, presented during a Gala Dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House.

The prize capped off a week of exceptional achievement for Dr White, whose PhD was accepted the day before the conference.

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