Released for take-off | EurekAlert! Science news

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – A 30-year program that has made flying safer through continued innovation in aircraft inspection, maintenance, and airworthiness research has ended with Sandia National Laboratories.

The Federal Aviation Administration (AANC) Airworthiness Assurance Center, run by Sandia for the FAA, is moving to Wichita State University’s National Institute of Aviation Research to join forces with another long-standing FAA center. The planned move supports structural shifts at both Sandia and the FAA.

At the center, Sandia researchers worked with employees from aircraft manufacturers, airlines, regulators, universities and industry to develop inspection and maintenance systems for aircraft. The original focus was on developing non-destructive inspection techniques for aging aircraft and then expanded to include airworthiness requirements throughout the life of all aircraft systems.

“Our goal was to develop the technology, prove the technology and, just as important, bring the technology to industry so that it can be routinely used to ensure flight safety,” said Senior Scientist Dennis Roach, Sandia’s senior scientist Engineer in the center. “The AANC at Sandia has become a trusted source of unbiased technology development and validation for a number of programs.”

The center supported a wide range of aircraft safety and reliability issues and the application of new technologies, including operations, structural repairs, advanced materials, corrosion monitoring and control, human factors, engine and fuel systems, landing gears, mechanical and electrical systems, structural modeling and Analysis, sensor and instrument development, crash safety, aircraft certification, information processing and analysis, accident investigation, regulatory and advisory supervisory requirements, error analysis and system safety.

The center also worked with other industries and all branches of the military on various technical system and reliability requirements.

Roach said the centre’s staff adapted to and created many changes in the aviation industry. For example, the exclusive focus on metallic structures shifted to research on composite structures as the next generation of aircraft used these materials as their primary structure. Similarly, manual non-destructive inspection methods gave way to automated structural condition monitoring as the center paved the way for the introduction of on-board sensors and the use of intelligent structures to improve aircraft damage detection.

Some notable projects, including spin-off programs for other industries, include:

Accident Investigations: The center supported accident investigations for TWA800, Swiss Air111, American Airline587 and several rotorcraft accidents. All programs introduced improved test methods for critical components.

Space Shuttle Program: Following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, the center worked on NASA’s Return to Flight program to develop an inspection system to certify each space shuttle prior to launch.

Syncrude / Exxon Oil Exploration: The composite know-how gained from aerospace programs has been used to develop new repair methods for high cycle oil recovery equipment.

Monitoring of the bridge condition: For the monitoring of the condition of bridges, expertise from the aircraft safety research of the center was used.

Robotic inspection of wind blades: The center’s expertise in non-destructive inspection has been used to develop a robotic inspection system to monitor the integrity of the rotor blades on wind turbines.

Aircraft Designs for Tomorrow: In its work to introduce advanced aircraft maintenance technology and new materials, the center has partnered with over 300 companies and government organizations to conduct strategic partnership projects in 10 countries.

“I never imagined in 1990 that this program would last 30 years and do so much to the safety of commercial aviation,” said Dave Galella, FAA program manager. “It was incredibly comforting to know that whenever a new airworthiness challenge emerged, I could pick up the phone and have access to the extensive expertise of Sandia-AANC.”

During his tenure at Sandia, the center has earned dozens of patents, won nine Better Way awards from Airlines for America and the FAA, produced more than 500 publications and formal procedures, and helped develop regulatory measures to promote aviation, aviation, and aerospace, oil and gas, renewable energy, automotive and nuclear industries. The team worked on several international bodies to develop global standards for aircraft maintenance.

“The AANC has been an extremely successful collaboration providing the opportunity to develop new aviation security technologies that further enable structural health monitoring for our core NNSA physical security and other programs,” said Sandia Director Gary Laughlin. “Right from the start, Dennis Roach was a central figure, both technically and programmatically, and a leader in the program.”

All assets acquired during the program, including non-destructive testing equipment, test specimens, custom tools, new inventions and an aviation document library, were loaded onto trucks in late April and moved to a new hangar at Wichita State University. Most of the Sandia researchers working at the center are retired or have moved to other projects at Sandia, while Roach said the transition is in line with his planned retirement and move to aviation consulting.

Roach estimates that more than 100 Sandia researchers contributed to the centre’s projects. The program raised $ 120 million in funding over 30 years and resulted in an additional $ 30 million in industrial partnerships.


Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-mission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the US Department of Energy. Sandia Labs has important research and development responsibilities in the fields of nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness with principal locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Livermore, California.

Sandia media contact: Kristen Meub, [email protected], 505-239-1671

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