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28 March 1995 Quantitative thermal imaging of aircraft structures
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Aircraft structural integrity is a major concern for airlines and airframe manufacturers. To remain economically competitive, airlines are looking at ways to retire older aircraft, not when some fixed number of flight hours or cycles has been reached, but when true structural need dictates. This philosophy is known as `retirement for cause.' The need to extend the life of commercial aircraft has increased the desire to develop nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques capable of detecting critical flaws such as disbonding and corrosion. These subsurface flaws are of major concern in bonded lap joints. Disbonding in such a joint can provide an avenue for moisture to enter the structure leading to corrosion. Significant material loss due to corrosion can substantially reduce the structural strength, load bearing capacity and ultimately reduce the life of the structure. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Langley Research Center has developed a thermal NDE system designed for application to disbonding and corrosion detection in aircraft skins. By injecting a small amount of heat into the front surface of an aircraft skin, and recording the time history of the resulting surface temperature variations using an infrared camera, quantitative images of both bond integrity and material loss due to corrosion can be produced. This paper presents a discussion of the development of the thermal imaging system as well as the techniques used to analyze the resulting thermal images. The analysis techniques presented represent a significant improvement in the information available over conventional thermal imaging due to the inclusion of data from both the heating and cooling portion of the thermal cycle. Results of laboratory experiments on fabricated disbond and material loss samples are presented to determine the limitations of the system. Additionally, the results of actual aircraft inspections are shown, which help to establish the field applicability for this technique. A recent application of this technology to aircraft repairs using boron/epoxy patches is shown illustrating the flexibility of the technology.
© (1995) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
K. Elliott Cramer, Patricia A. Howell, and Hazari I. Syed "Quantitative thermal imaging of aircraft structures", Proc. SPIE 2473, Thermosense XVII: An International Conference on Thermal Sensing and Imaging Diagnostic Applications, (28 March 1995);

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