Onboard rotor blade-monitoring system gets put to the test

Helicopters regularly have to get their rotor blades inspected, so they can be replaced if they’re wearing out. Utilizing the BladeSense system, however, the aircraft would be able to self-monitor the condition of their blades in real time, while in flight.

The technology is currently being developed via a collaboration between Britain’s Cranfield University and Airbus Helicopters UK.

It incorporates strips of fiber optic sensors that are mounted along the length of each rotor blade. As the helicopter flies, those sensors measure the strain being placed on the blade, along with any changes that occur in its shape. Data is relayed from each strip to a central processing unit, located on top of the rotor hub.

In a real-world scenario, if the data indicated that one or more of the blades were close to failure, the pilot and ground crews would be instantly notified. And if the problem were particularly severe, BladeSense could automatically trigger the helicopter’s flight control systems to compensate for it, allowing the aircraft to stay airborne until it could be safely landed.

Along with serving as a warning system, though, the setup could also be used simply to study the behaviour of rotor blades, helping in the design of longer-lasting, better-performing models.

Although the BladeSense project began in 2015, it was recently put to the test on a helicopter for the first time. An Airbus H135 was fitted with the system, then proceeded to run its rotor blades at up to 400 rpm while sitting on the ground for four hours. Data was successfully transmitted from the aircraft via Wi-Fi, to a remotely-located ground station.

There’s currently no word on when an in-flight test of the technology may occur.

Source: Cranfield University

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