Aviation Research Grants Program

Grants Success Story

Iowa State University

Ames, Iowa

In the fall of 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established the Center for Aviation Systems Reliability (CASR) at Iowa State University (ISU) in response to the Aviation Safety Act of 1988. The Aviation Safety Act, created primarily as the result of an in-flight mishap involving an Aloha Airlines’ Boeing 737, mandated that the FAA develop research technologies to aid the aviation industry to (1) better predict the effects of design, maintenance, testing, wear, and fatigue life of an aircraft; (2) develop methods for improving aircraft maintenance technology and practices; and (3) expand general long-range research activities applicable to aviation systems. Therefore, the objectives of CASR are to develop quantitative nondestructive evaluation methods for aircraft structures and materials including prototype instrumentation, software, techniques, and procedures and to develop and maintain comprehensive education and training programs specific to the aviation industry. The first step was taken toward meeting these goals in September 1992. The FAA Office of Research and Technology Applications awarded ISU a grant, funded by the Airport and Aircraft Safety Research and Development Division, to initiate the design of a laboratory expansion for engineering research with cost-effective, reliable inspection tools and comprehensive training materials that meet the specific needs of the aviation industry and teaching. A combination of state, private, and federal funds will be used to design and construct this facility, which has an expected occupancy date of March 2000.


Through continuation grants, the Center for Aviation Systems Reliability at Iowa State University has worked with the FAA and industry to define the technological challenges related to inspection and maintenance of aircraft and aircraft engines. Once a problem is defined, the resources of ISU, Northwestern University, Wayne State University, and Tuskegee University are utilized to develop applicable inspection tools for the detection of manufacturing and service discontinuities in aircraft materials, structures, and components.

Major Program Areas:

Engineering Research, Development, and Application of various nondestructive evaluation (NDE) methodologies including thermal wave imaging, ultrasonics, eddy current, radiography, and optical techniques to such aging aircraft issues as corrosion, disbond detection, fatigue cracking and multilayer inspection.

Many of the technologies are in the Technology Deployment and Transition process in cooperation with the Aging Aircraft Validation Center (AANC) at Sandia National Laboratories.

Education and Training programs include development of traditional education materials for use in training NDE auditors, development of computer-based instruction tools for nondestructive inspection (NDI), and an inspection simulator.

The Engine Titanium Consortium (ETC) which is funded under a separate grant consists of ISU, AlliedSignal, General Electric, and Pratt & Whitney. The ETC was established to provide reliable, cost-effective methods for the inspection of engine materials, components, and hardware. This university/industry consortium brings together the fundamental support of university research with the engineering talents of the three industry representatives to develop and transfer inspection technology throughout the engine lifecycle.


Major Research Accomplishments:

In addition to a strong, result oriented, productive research program, CASR has developed education and training tools that meet the specific needs of the aviation industry.

In addition to these research accomplishments, CASR has supported 36 Post Doctoral students, 54 Graduate Students, and 22 undergraduates. Twenty seven theses have been completed; 10 from Iowa State University, 7 from Tuskegee University, 6 from Norhwestern University, and 4 from Wayne State University. Also, as previously mentioned, three patents have been issued and five licensing agreements have been generated. These are measurable successful outputs of the Aviation Research Grants Program which the American public can applaud.

CASR has received continuation grants through November 1997 and has submitted a formal proposal to be considered an Air Transportation Center of Excellence designation.

The Aviation Research Grants Program encourages and supports innovative, advanced research of potential benefit to the FAA mission. As a result, the aviation research talent base will increase to support the long-term growth of the aviation industry.