real-world experience

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48 Aviation Maintenance^ |^^ | June / July 2016


he mission of the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) is to provide the safest,
most efficient aerospace system in the world.
There are many ways in which the FAA seeks to
accomplish its mission. Many people are aware that
the FAA develops safety regulations which set the
minimum safety requirements for aviation. However,
many people are not aware that the FAA also conducts
research and development to help it achieve its
mission. There are many offices within the FAA, each
with their own set of duties and responsibilities. The
Airports Organization (ARP) provides leadership in
planning and developing a safe and efficient national
airport system; The Air Traffic Organization (ATO) is the
operational arm of the FAA and is responsible for safe
and efficient air navigation services to approximately
30 million square miles of airspace; and Aviation
Safety (AVS) is the organization responsible for the
certification, production approval, and continued
airworthiness of aircraft; certification of pilots,
mechanics, and others in safety-related positions. AVS
is also responsible for certification of all operational
and maintenance enterprises in domestic civil aviation,
certification and safety oversight of approximately
7,300 U.S. commercial airlines and air operators, civil
flight operations, and developing regulations.
The William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic
City, New Jersey is one of the nation’s premier aviation
research, development, test and evaluation facilities.
Its world-class laboratories and engineering place the
Technical Center at the forefront of the FAA’s challenge
to modernize the U.S. air transportation system. The
Technical Center serves as the FAA’s national scientific
test base for research and development, test and
evaluation, verification and validation in air traffic control,
communications, navigation, airports, aircraft safety,
and security. The Technical Center is the primary facility
supporting the nation’s Next Generation Air Transportation
System, called NextGen.
Within the Aviation Research Division, one of several
divisions at the William J. Hughes Technical Center, there
are five branches: Fire Safety, Human Factors, Airport
Technology, Software and Digital Systems, and Structures
and Propulsions. The Fire Safety Branch conducts long-
range research to develop a totally fire resistant passenger
aircraft cabin with the goal of eliminating cabin fire as a
cause of fatalities in aviation. The Human Factors Branch
employs scientific methods and advanced technology in
the conduct of research and development to ensure that
systems that include human operators and maintainers
perform as effectively and safely as possible. The Airport
Technology Branch conducts the necessary research and
development required to enhance the safety of operations

at our nation’s airports and to ensure the adequacy of
engineering specifications and standards in all areas
of the airport systems and, where necessary, develop
data to support new standards. The Structures and
Propulsions Branch’s work includes research on structures
and materials, propulsion and aircraft icing, and fuels and

Maintenance & Inspection Research
One research program within the Structures and
Propulsions Branch is the Maintenance and Inspection
(M&I) Research Program. The M&I Program conducts
research on topics related to maintaining the
continued airworthiness of aircraft throughout their
service lives. There are many aspects in maintaining
aircraft but safety all stems from ensuring that the
aircraft remain fully compliant with the regulations
through the entirety of their commercial operation. As
aircraft evolve, the FAA must remain proactive in their
safety mission. As such, the FAA is constantly working
with the industry, academia, and other government
agencies to ensure the safe operation of today’s
aircraft while preparing for the next generation of
aircraft as well. The main drivers of M&I research are
evolving materials, technologies, and procedures. For
example, for years aircraft have been predominately
made from metal alloys such as aluminum and
titanium. Today there are many aircraft that are
composed of more than 50% by weight of composite
materials. The aerospace industry uses composites
to take advantage of their high strength-to-weight
ratios, superior fatigue lives, resistance to corrosion,
and their tolerance to various types of damage. Much
of the M&I research portfolio is based on composites
safety and includes evaluating both conventional and
advanced Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) methods
effectiveness in detecting damage in composites;
documenting best-practices in industry repair methods;
and providing training and education to the aviation
maintenance workforce in order to familiarize them
with new materials and technologies.
In the mid-2000’s the FAA teamed up with Sandia
National labs and over 35 airlines and Original Equipment
Manufacturers (OEMs) from around the world to conduct
two Probability of Flaw Detection (POD) experiments:
Composite Honeycomb Flaw Detection Experiment and
the Composite Laminate Flaw Detection Experiment. The
motivation for these experiments was the increasing use
of composites on commercial aircraft and the program
goals were to assess and improve damage detection
performance in composite aircraft structure. Both
programs quantified the performance of current inspection
methods for honeycomb and solid laminate composite

FAA: Providing the Safest

Aerospace System in the World


David Westlund,
Research Engineer,
Structures and
Materials Section,
Federal Aviation

David Westlund holds
a BS in composite
materials engineering
from Winona State
University and a
master’s degree in
aerospace engineering
from North Carolina
State University. He
joined the FAA in 2009
and is currently the
program manager for
the FAA’s Maintenance
and Inspection
Research Program.


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