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Russian planes to be equipped with ‘nervous system’ for monitoring airframe flaws

August 18, 2017, 11:39 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Researchers have likened the plane's system with the nervous system of living organisms

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 MC-21 plane

MC-21 plane

© Marina Lystseva/TASS

MOSCOW, August 18. /TASS/. The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects has come up with an idea of equipping Russian airliners, including MC-21 with what it briefly described as a "nervous system" for monitoring the technical condition of all of the airframe’s components and parts, project chief Dmitry Uspensky told TASS.

"Using a system of early warning of likely flaws and faults on the MC-21 plane is not only possible but very desirable. From the standpoint of compatibility it is a soluble problem. Such a technology of continuous monitoring of the plane’s condition will be very helpful in creating a system for prompt, online maintenance depending on the aircraft’s actual condition. Our new generation plane will appear on the market in a very different economic situation," Uspensky said.

Although the model of a future "nervous system" was for the first time displayed just recently (at the MAKS-2017 air show), Uspensky believes it may well be used on Russia’s newly-designed passenger plane MC-21. As a result, MC-21 will have a considerable competitive edge over its counterparts from Boeing and Airbus.

MC-21 is a medium haul passenger liner being developed by the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC, incorporating Irkut). It will come in two configurations MC-21-200 (seating 132 to 165) and MC-21-300 (passenger capacity ranging from 163 to 211). At the moment work is proceeding only on the MC-21-300 model, which performed its maiden flight at the end of May.

The first liners are to be delivered at the end of 2018.

Living organisms serve as prototypes

The aircraft’s nervous system is being developed at the Foundation under the Crystal project. Researchers have likened it with the nervous system of living organisms. The composite materials of which the planes are made will incorporate optical fibers sensitive to mechanical impact. The fibers will constitute an integrated network.

"Data showing the condition of the given component will be transmitted by a laser beam travelling within the optical fiber to the system’s ‘brain’ - the onboard computer. As a result, information about the technical condition of certain critically important parts, units and elements of the plane will be promptly available to the pilot and ground services," Uspensky said.

He pointed out such a feature was of key importance to ensuring flight safety.

"The relevance and authenticity of information about the plane’s technical condition is crucial to timely adjustment and repairs of potentially faulty components. This will save lives," he said.

"The nervous system the Foundation is working on is unparalleled," Uspensky pointed out. "Nobody has anything similar to what we are about to create."

Currently most planes are equipped with systems of warning the pilot about the dangerous condition of engines. The world’s leading manufacturers of air turbines equip them with automatic systems of gathering information about their current condition and transmitting them to the ground services. But all of such systems monitor the operation of only one unit of the plane, albeit a key one.

"The Russian system is meant for enhancing the effectiveness of maintenance of the plane’s airframe: the wings, tail, fuselage, etc., in other words, the basic elements of the plane’s structure crucial to flight safety," Uspensky added.

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