According tomedia New Atlas, engineers need to conduct regular checks on the helicopter rotors to replace them when they are worn. However, with the BladeSense system, the aircraft will be able to self-monitor the condition of the rotors in real time during flight. Researchers at Cranfield University and Airbus Helicopters UK are working together to develop the technology.
The system contains fiber optic sensor strips installed along the length of each rotor blade. When the helicopter is flying, these sensors measure the strain applied to the blades and any changes in the shape of the blades. The data is uploaded from each blade to a central processing unit located on top of the rotor hub. In practice, pilots and ground staff are immediately notified if the data indicates that one or more blades are close to failure. If the problem is particularly serious, BladeSense can automatically trigger the helicopter’s flight control system to compensate, keeping the aircraft in the air until it lands safely.
In addition to being an early warning system, the device can also be used to study the performance of the rotors and help design longer-lasting, better-performing models.
Although the BladeSense project began in 2015, it was recently tested on a helicopter for the first time. An Airbus H135 helicopter installed the system and then stopped on the ground for four hours to run its rotor blades at speeds of up to 400 rpm. Data is successfully transmitted from the aircraft to a remote ground station via Wi-Fi.
There was no word yet on when the technology’s flight tests might take place.