NASA software enables pinpoint flutter testing

Engineers at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre have successfully demonstrated a software data analysis tool that is designed to increase the efficiency of flight flutter testing.

A flight experiment called the Aerostructures Test Wing (ATW) conducted at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre, successfully demonstrated a new software data analysis tool, the flutterometer, which is designed to increase the efficiency of flight flutter testing.

Flutter is the rapid and self-excited vibration of wings, tail surfaces, and other aircraft parts that can damage or destroy an aircraft component and is caused by the flow of air across the surface of the structure.

The experiment consisted of an 18-inch carbon fibre test wing with surface-mounted piezoelectric strain actuators. The test wing was mounted on a ventral flight test fixture and flown on Dryden’s F-15B Research Testbed aircraft.

Five flights consisted of increasing speeds and altitudes leading to the final test point of Mach 0.85 at an altitude of 10,000 feet. At each Mach and altitude, stability estimations of the wing were made using accelerometer measurements in response to the piezoelectric actuator excitation.

The test wing was intentionally flown to the point of structural failure, resulting in about a third of the 18-inch wing breaking off. This allowed engineers to record the effectiveness of the flutterometer over the entire regime of flutter testing, up to and including structural failure.

The actuators were moved at different magnitudes and frequency levels to induce wing vibrations and excite the dynamics during flight.

The ATW experiment is said to represent the first time that piezoelectric actuators were used during a flight flutter test.

‘The data acquired during the Aerostructures Test Wing experiment will help us improve the way we model structures, and helps to validate the flutterometer concept’ said Dryden project engineer David Voracek. ‘The data that was created from these flights will be invaluable to future flight flutter test engineers for research and training.’

Potential benefits of this research include reduced time and cost associated with aircraft certification by lowering the number of flights required to clear a new or modified aircraft for flight, and provision of a structural dynamics database for industry and university flutter research.

The flutterometer is an on-line software tool that was loaded on computers in Dryden’s control room for the experiment in order to access the flight data. With this new technology, flight data can be analysed immediately using the newly developed software to determine the stability properties of aircraft in flight.

It is designed to predict the flight conditions at which the onset of flutter may occur. In this way, the flight envelope of an aircraft can be determined more quickly and safely than using traditional approaches. The ATW experiment was the first time the flutterometer was used on a flight system that actually experienced flutter.

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