1998-11-09

Improving Aircraft Composite Inspections Using Optimized Reference Standards 983120

The rapidly increasing use of composites on commercial airplanes coupled with the potential for economic savings associated with their use in aircraft structures means that the demand for composite materials technology will continue to increase. Inspecting these composite structures is a critical element in assuring their continued airworthiness. The FAA's Airworthiness Assurance NDI Validation Center, in conjunction with the Commercial Aircraft Composite Repair Committee, is developing a set of composite reference standards to be used in NDT equipment calibration for accomplishment of damage assessment and post-repair inspection of all commercial aircraft composites. In this program, a series of NDI tests on a matrix of composite aircraft structures and prototype reference standards were completed in order to minimize the number of standards needed to carry out composite inspections on aircraft. Two tasks, related to composite laminates and non-metallic composite honeycomb configurations, were addressed.
A suite of 64 honeycomb panels, representing the bounding conditions of honeycomb construction on aircraft, were inspected using a wide array of NDI techniques. An analysis of the resulting data determined the variables that play a key role in setting up NDT equipment. This has resulted in a prototype set of minimum honeycomb reference standards that include these key variables. A sequence of subsequent tests determined that this minimum honeycomb reference standard set is able to fully support inspections over the full range of honeycomb construction scenarios. Current tasks are aimed at optimizing the methods used to engineer realistic flaws into the specimens. In the solid composite laminate arena, we have identified what appears to be an excellent candidate, G11 Phenolic, as a generic solid laminate reference standard material. Testing to date has determined matches in key velocity and acoustic impedance properties, as well as, low attenuation relative to carbon laminates. Furthermore, comparisons of resonance testing response curves from the G11 Phenolic prototype standard was very similar to the resonance response curves measured on the existing carbon and fiberglass laminates. NDI data shows that this material should work for both pulse-echo (velocity-based) and resonance (acoustic impedance-based) inspections. Additional testing and industry review activities are underway to complete the validation of this material.

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