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UDRI Wins Funding Boost for Aging Aircraft Inspection

UDRI Wins Funding Boost for Aging Aircraft Inspection

A new ultrasonic inspection technology that looks for defects in the military's aging aircraft will move out of the lab and into the commercial sector, thanks to a federal funding boost to the University of Dayton Research Institute.

UDRI has received $1.75 million in new funding to start the technology transfer process for the Turbine Engine Sustainment Initiative, researchers announced today. Previously, the Dayton Development Coalition and the area congressional delegation worked to secure more than $14.8 million in federal funding for the first phases of the project.

Against the backdrop of a war in Iraq, researchers say the work is significant for the U.S. Air Force because it’s much cheaper to inspect and put engine components back in service rather than replace them. These inspections could save the Air Force approximately $750 million by 2014 and bring new, high-technology commercial inspection services and system manufacturing business to Dayton.

Approximately 40 percent of the Air Force's fleet is more than 25 years old, according to Mickey McCabe, director of UDRI.

UDRI is partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory, Pittsburgh-based American Robot Corp. and three area firms -- Veridian, U.S. Inspection Services Inc. and General Electric Aircraft Engines -- to develop the next generation of jet engine inspection equipment.

In a University of Dayton laboratory, research engineer David Stubbs and colleagues have built a prototype ultrasonic inspection machine that looks for embedded defects in expensive turbine engine disks in the military's aging aircraft fleet. It looks deceptively like a big fish aquarium -- with a robot as its caretaker.

“The return on investment is fantastic on this technology,” said Stubbs, director of UDRI’s Turbine Engine Support Center. “Turbine engine disks run anywhere between $30,000 and $300,000 per disk with approximately 20 disks per engine. If you have 500 engines in a fleet, we’re talking component costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Congress recognizes the huge cost savings in inspecting the parts for safety and continuing to use them rather than replacing the components.”

UDRI will simulate an inspection of an engine part this spring for the Air Force. A production-ready machine is expected to be available in late 2004. UDRI performs nearly $50 million annually in sponsored research, much of it in aircraft safety.

March 27, 2003

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