Sunday, February 18, 2007

Finding faults in aircraft wiring

An electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Utah, and her students, have been working to develop a new type of fault location system for aircraft wiring.

Most planes have over 15 miles of wiring, so it's impractical to thoroughly inspect wires for tiny faults. But faults in wiring cause short circuits, which in turn can cause fires. "Faults in airplane wires is one of the main reasons planes crash," says Professor Cynthia Furse.

The insulation on wiring can crack as it ages. Moisture from condensation can then enter the cracks and causes short circuits. The problem is that the short circuits only occur when the plane is in flight.
"By the time the plane has landed, the problem is gone and it is impossible to find the fault and fix it," Furse said.

"Currently, there is no system that can detect wire faults without interfering with the signals the wires are trying to send," said Alyssa Magleby, an electrical engineering graduate student.

Furse and her students have been working on developing a system that locates the fault when it short circuits and then records it so the problem can be located when the plane lands.

"We are working on developing an intermittent, live wire fault location system that can locate the fault within one foot," Furse said.

"The system we design has to be able to function while the plane is in the air without messing up signals that are already there," Magleby said.[The Daily Utah Chronicle]
The systems under development by the Utah team are not yet ready for installation, but are expected to be widely deployed by between 2010 and 2012.