July 14, 2016 – A fascinating but unexpected flight display at Farnborough Airshow 2016 was Airbus’s demonstration of visually inspecting an aircraft using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
The UAV, equipped with a high-definition camera, can be used to visually inspect the upper part of an aircraft. It is flown using an automatic flight control system supervised by a human pilot and follows a predetermined flight path while automatically taking a series of pictures. All these images, especially those showing any potential quality isues such as scratches, dents and painting defects, are compiled in a 3D digital model, recorded in a database and then analyzed. This data helps improve traceability, prevention and reduction of damage.
According to Airbus, the benefits of this tool and process are significant. A main benefit is that aircraft downtime for inspection is reduced, as data acquisition by drone only requires 10 to 15 minutes, compared with the two hours required using conventional methods.
Further benefits are that operators no longer need to go up on a telescopic handler to perform visual inspections – sometimes in poor weather conditions – and picture analysis can be done anytime after the drone’s flight, from the warmth and safety of an office.
“The use of this new technology offers better working conditions, including improving the safety and comfort for the quality inspectors”, stated Nathalie Ducombeau, Airbus’s head of quality. You can see a longer explanation by Ducombeau, and a demonstration of the UAV HERE.
A full-scale industrial test is currently being conducted on an A330 aircraft, and Airbus is working on the implementation on other programs for the UAV.