The Cranfield University Center for Aeronautics, with partners Airbus Helicopters UK, BHR Group and Helitune, aims to revolutionize health monitoring for rotorcraft by investigating the aeroelastic behavior of rotor blades and developing state-of-the-art fiber optic sensors. The project has approximately 2.6 million dollars in funding and is scheduled to be completed around July 2018.
Current maintenance processes are extremely labor intensive, costly and involve regular checks of a helicopter’s rotor blades to help identify whether there are any potential problems.
The BLADESENSE project aims to mount fiber optic sensors along the length of each blade to determine their ‘health’ and identify early on whether there are any changes to the way in which they are behaving. Any changes would trigger the flight control systems to adapt and send an alert to the maintenance team suggesting that further checks are necessary.
We have made considerable progress since the project started in July 2015.
Although this is the first time Cranfield University has been directly involved in helicopter flight testing, as well as the first ever research project undertaken by Airbus Helicopters UK, Cranfield has extensive experience and ongoing funded research efforts related to the development of advanced fiber optics and flight systems to include:
The Advanced In-Flight Measurement Techniques (AIM and AIM 2) research programs ran for eight years from 2006 and developed advanced optical measurement systems for in-flight measurement, $4.8M, https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/case-studies/research-case-studies/fibre-optic-sensors.
The Agile Wing Integration (AWI) project for development of world-changing wing designs and integration capabilities for use during the early phases of the development of new aircraft, $1.7M, https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/case-studies/research-case-studies/agile-wing-integration-project.
A Six-year program with BAE for next generation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), in which we developed and evaluated a range of technologies culminating in the DEMON demonstrator, the world’s first flying ‘flapless’ aircraft, $8M, https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/case-studies/research-case-studies/flaviir.
The AIRSTART (Accelerated Integration of Reliable Small UAV systems Through Applied Research and Testing) collaborative program led by Airbus Group Innovations, which seeks to develop technologies for small commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) related to affordable, lightweight, sense and avoid; fast and secure, laser communications technology; and novel hybrid power systems required to enable safe operation ‘Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS)’ and increased mission endurance, $4.1M, https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/case-studies/research-case-studies/airstart.