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Safer Flight

Plane Gains

Researchers help Boeing build better aircraft

Planes flying illustration

Illustration by Richard Mia

The University of Texas at Arlington has received a $600,000 grant from Boeing to test composite components. The researchers involved hope to develop protocol for determining when those components might fail. Industry officials believe the research could lead to longer-lasting aircraft.

Andrew Makeev, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Advanced Materials and Structures Lab, will lead the project. Endel Iarve, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who works in the UTA Research Institute's Institute for Predictive Performance Methodologies, is the co-principal investigator.

"At the end of the research, Boeing and the Air Force want to understand and have confidence that our analysis can be used to predict the remaining useful life of composite airframe structures," Dr. Makeev says.

Composite aircraft began dominating the commercial aircraft market with the production of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, and they will continue to do so thanks to expected upgrades of legacy aircraft platforms. Looking forward, on the Department of Defense application side, Lockheed Martin has been ordered to produce more than 3,000 F-35 aircraft. Similarly, the U.S. Army and the helicopter industry are facing the challenge of replacing more than 6,300 military vertical lift aircraft.

Advanced polymeric composites are playing a major role in the design of high-performance and lightweight aircraft structures. However, the remaining useful life of these structures is uncertain due to the complexity of failure mechanisms and their susceptibility to manufacturing irregularities, which may be precursors to structural damage and impose risks that cannot be lessened exclusively by field testing.

"What Dr. Makeev is doing could have significant implications on aircraft design and certification," says Erian Armanios, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. "Developing a capability to predict composite airframe strength and durability is bound to have industry-wide implications."

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