Seeing Beyond Skin Deep

The Air Force Research Lab, along with its industry partners, has developed a portable sensor that allows maintainers to assess the degradation of specialty materials underneath an aircraft’s outer skin in a manner that doesn’t require ripping open up the aircraft. “We produced and delivered a first-of-its-kind, hand-held [nondestructive evaluation] capability to measure specialty material electrical performance through topcoats and under thick protective ceramic tiles,” said AFRL’s Juan Calzada, who works in the lab’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. The system was conceived under a program called “next generation sensor.” Calzada said the program met its goals by effectively demonstrating the ultra-sensitive sensor in a laboratory setting and then fabricating two prototypes for testing and evaluation on operational aircraft. Being able to ascertain the status of the materials under the topcoats and tiles avoids the labor hours and materials replacement costs associated with having to remove the outer skin, he said. (Wright-Patterson report by Pete Meltzer Jr.)