Monitoring Of Aircraft Wiring To Be Improved

June 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Ensuring safety in flight has always been a full-time job and a lot of avionics systems have been dedicated to the monitoring of navigation, communication and other essential flight systems. Unfortunately aircraft wiring can usually only be checked on the ground, which means pilots get little warning if something goes wrong with their wiring during a flight.

At the moment checking an aircraft’s wiring is a tedious and lengthy process even with the state-of-the art technology that has been developed for this purpose. The aircraft has to be out of service so that it stays grounded during the time-consuming process and certain sections of the aircraft need to be accessed directly with testing equipment – a process which can be quite cumbersome. In addition to this much of the testing equipment is often specific to a particular type of aircraft so it is difficult to ensure that each aircraft is tested as efficiently as possible. There is no system currently available that will show if problems are likely to occur or even if they have occurred. Faults in the wiring will only be found during regular checks, which means that a particular problem may have been evident for weeks or even months before it was found.

But all this is about to change. The design team at the Institute of System Level Integration (SLI) has formed a partnership with Ultra Electronics BCF Ltd to this end. Their ultimate goal is to eliminate this problem and make it easier to operate and maintain an aircraft. The two companies are working under the Network of Excellence project, which aims to ensure that problems affecting the manufacture and reliability of different aircraft are addressed before a new prototype is even developed. The project has been divided into two sections. The first section aims to prove that MEMs sensors can be applied to monitor the environment surrounding the wiring on the aircraft. The sensors are still being developed as they need to be able to gather a lot of different information. Ultimately they should be able to measure temperature, humidity, strain and changes in electrical current and this will inform the pilot as to when he will need to carry out wiring maintenance. The second section is to demonstrate that the data gathered by these sensors can be sent wirelessly to a central hub from where it is sent to the aircraft’s avionics systems, thus informing the pilot of any potential problems.

Clearly such timely information could prove to be invaluable to pilots and airline companies. If the project is successful, airplanes will only need to be grounded when these systems indicate that the wiring harnesses are faulty. Unnecessary pre-emptive checks will be eliminated and problems that would have caused problems before one of these checks was carried out will be caught long in advance. Though the project is still under development it would seem that it shouldn’t be too much longer before this new system becomes the norm in every aircraft spinning off the production lines.

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