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NASA X-ray device to inspect aircraft.

With aging planes infesting the U.S. carrier fleet, potential crashes due to structural failures are now a modern nightmare.

In response, NASA is testing a portable X-ray system to look for structural defects in the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies of airplane bodies and engines. The new system, developed under NASA contract by the Digiray Corp., can inspect fuselages, wings, joints, and even jet engine turbine blades.

Unlike conventional, bulky X-ray methods - which use film, require dissembling of the plane, and produce fuzzy pictures--this system employs small probes placed into or behind the material, without taking the plane apart. Using intensities comparable to a chest X-ray, the machine creates a sharp, digital image of a material's physical structure, says Richard D. Albert, president of Digiray. With multiple probes, a computer fashions a three-dimensional view, revealing a sample's integrity or highlighting its defects.

The resolution is high enough to spot cracks in composite materials -- heavily used in such craft as the space shuttle and stealth bomber-and corrosion on metal, Albert says. "We can see cracks and defects early on, when they're forming, not just when they've advanced. Individual layers of material stand out, so defects show up before they're out of control," he says.

NASA believes these new diagnostic systems will prove useful in other areas as well. "This technology, along with others we're developing, will have a major impact on the cost of maintaining and extending the life of large structures that are very costly to replace," says Joseph S. Heyman, a senior researcher at NASA's Langley (Va.) Research Center. He cites, for example, chemical storage tanks, roads, bridges, and other big objects whose useful life is curtailed by an inability to measure their soundness.
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Title Annotation:National Aeronautics and Space Administration; for defects
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 14, 1993
Words:285
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