Safe landing for heavyweight fighter

The US Air Force’s F-16 fighter has been gaining weight with improvements, such as new weapon systems and bigger fuel pods, adding to the aircraft’s mass.

This is potentially problematic for pilots and ground crew, given that increased weight can lead to sharper breaking in the same amount of runway space.

The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has, however, developed a sensor system that will allow ground crews and pilots prepare for an emergency scenario if brakes approach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

‘Pilots need to know the level of risk they face during a landing so they can determine if they should taxi away from other aircraft,’ said Jim Skorpik, Pacific Northwest chief engineer. ‘And once a fighter plane is safely down, if ground crews need to refuel for the next mission, they can check the sensor system to see if the brakes have cooled sufficiently.’

The sensor system couples a temperature sensor that can detect temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit with a radio-frequency tag.

The sensor has been designed to fit into an existing wear pin that is used to monitor brake pad wear on the F-16. The accompanying wheel-mounted RF tag is comprised of a tiny silicon chip and an antenna connected to the sensor by an industrial cable.

When the F-16 lands, ground crews will use a wireless hand-held device, called an interrogator, which beams radio waves to the RF tag from up to 100 feet away. The radio waves activate the RF tag, which collects a temperature reading from the sensor. Then the RF tag sends that information back to the interrogator. The device can also read information from numerous tags simultaneously.

Pacific Northwest engineers have ground tested the sensor system to ensure the wheel-mounted tag can communicate with the interrogator. Additional testing will take place in the autumn.