AF Lab Investigating Microscopic Crack Formations, Metal Fatigue

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September 10, 2016 | Originally published by Date Line: September 10 on

The B-52 Stratofortress is one of the oldest legacy aircraft in the Air Force. Since the 1950s, the B-52 has led the force in its dominance as the world’s best; however, just as humans begin to age, so do aircraft.

Repeated loading and unloading, changes in air pressure, exposure to altitude and more, contribute to what is referred to as “metal fatigue,” resulting in small, microscopic cracks in engine, wing or tail structures that can have detrimental effects on safety.

Research scientists from the metals branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate understand the critical importance of metal fatigue and aircraft safety. To better address this critical issue, they are studying the earliest stages of crack formation in turbine engine materials in order to alleviate cracks leading to unexpected fatigue failure. Greater understanding of crack origins leads to more effective aircraft inspection procedures, wherein maintenance teams are able to determine metal fatigue at an earlier stage and mitigate the life-limiting effects before they become a safety problem.

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