Safe Flight

Aerospace engineer designing tools to prevent aircraft irregularities

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Understanding how aircraft parts can break down is vital to keeping passengers and crews safe. That’s why aerospace engineering Associate Professor Andrew Makeev is studying ways to improve how composite aircraft structures are designed and manufactured.

When a single yoke for a helicopter can cost upward of $100,000, it’s important to be able to predict its performance—in other words, to do most of the testing on a computer before taking it out into the field,” Dr. Makeev says.

Composite materials like fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber are often used in aircraft because they enable stronger and more durable construction at lower weight than metallic materials. Despite this, manufacturers have been overly conservative when designing composite parts because they lack knowledge of their internal structural behavior.

We have to understand how the composite will behave under stress,” Makeev explains. “Composites have manufacturing irregularities in them that aren’t visible to the naked eye. We need to find those irregularities and understand their effects.”

His research integrates multiple methods like computed tomography and 3-D prognostic modeling to evaluate the materials and structures. Makeev believes that the industry needs more tools to design better composite parts so the effects of the manufacturing process, including the irregularities, are captured and integrated into the structural designs early in the design phase.

This is important because the design and production phases for composite parts are expensive. If problems aren’t found until full-scale testing, the original design can only be patched, even if a complete redesign is preferable.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department Chair Erian Armanios sees Makeev’s study as an important bridge between innovation in university laboratories and the aircraft and rotorcraft industry.

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