Robotic Arm Streamlines Aircraft Maintenance

A research team from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, recently demonstrated a robotic arm intended to make aircraft maintenance more efficient and reliable. The Remote Access Nondestructive Evaluation (RANDE) system, which was developed in coordination with British engineering firm OC Robotics, is controlled by a joystick similar to those used in computer games. RANDE’s robotic arm significantly automates eddy current testing, a method that uses electromagnetic induction to detect surface and sub-surface structural flaws in materials that conduct electricity. Maintainers typically position an eddy current device by hand in order to check for problems, and they usually must remove an aircraft’s wings in order to check its interior surfaces. RANDE allows more accurate, computerized positioning of testing sensors, and its robotic arm can reach into tight spaces with less disassembly of the aircraft. AFRL hopes that widespread use of RANDE can reduce maintenance hours and prevent accidental damage to aircraft. Since the demonstration at Hill AFB, Utah, RANDE has remained with the 809th Maintenance Support Squadron, which is testing its range of applications.