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Aviation External Hazard Sensor Technologies


Lead Center: LaRC Participating Center(s): DFRC, GRC NASA is concerned with the prevention of encounters with hazardous in-flight conditions and the mitigation of their effects when they do occur. Hazardous flight conditions of particular interest are: wake vortices, clear-air turbulence, in-flight icing, lightning, and low visibility. NASA is interested in new and innovative methods for detection, identification, evaluation, and monitoring of in-flight hazards to aviation. In the case of lightning, interest is centered on the mitigation and in-flight measurement of lightning damage, particularly to composite aircraft. NASA seeks to foster research and development that leads to innovative new technologies and methods, or significant improvements in existing technologies, for in-flight hazard avoidance and mitigation. Technologies may take the form of tools, models, techniques, procedures, substantiated guidelines, prototypes, and devices. Proposed products may be for retrofit into current aircraft or for installation in future aircraft. Both manned and unmanned aircraft are of interest. A key objective of the NASA Aviation Safety Program is to support the research of technology, systems, and methods that will facilitate transformation of the National Airspace System to Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) (information available at The general approach to the development of airborne sensors for NextGen is to encourage the development of multi-use, adaptable, and effective sensors that will have a strong benefit to safety. The greatest impact will result from improved sensing capability in the terminal area, where higher density and more reliable operations are required for NextGen. Under this subtopic, proposals are invited that explore new and improved sensors and sensor systems for the detection and monitoring of hazards to aircraft before they are encountered. With regard to hazardous lightning conditions, the emphasis is not on remote detection, but rather on developing systems that make aircraft more robust in a lightning environment or provide in-flight damage assessment or other hazard mitigating benefits. The scope of this subtopic does not include human factors and focused development of human interfaces, including displays and alerts. Primary emphasis is on airborne applications, but in some cases the development of ground-based sensor technology may be supported. Approaches that use multiple sensors in combination to improve hazard detection and quantification of hazard levels are also of interest. Areas of particular interest to NASA at this time are described in more detail below. The list and details are provided as encouragement but are not intended to exclude other proposals that fit the scope of this subtopic. Turbulence and Wake Vortex • Remote detection of kinetic air hazards - The class of hazards including wake vortices, turbulence, and other hazards associated with air motion is referred to as kinetic air hazards. Within this class, wakes and turbulence are the highest priorities; however, NASA is particularly interested in sensor systems that can detect multiple hazards and thus provide greater utility. For example, air data systems are at times disabled by icing, and a multi-function, multi-hazard sensor that includes a robust alternative air data source would be a great asset in such conditions. • Airborne detection of wake vortices -Airborne detection of wake vortices is considered challenging due to the fact that detection must be possible in nearly all weather conditions, in order to be practical, and because of the size and nature of the phenomena. In particular, NASA is interested in the ability to detect and measure wake vortex hazards for arbitrary viewing angles. • Airborne detection of turbulence -NASA has made a major investment in the development of new and enhanced technologies to enable detection of turbulence to improve aviation safety. Progress has been made in efforts to quantify hazard levels from convectively induced turbulence events and to make these quantitative assessments available to civil and commercial aviation. NASA is interested in expanding these prior efforts to take advantage of the newly developing turbulence monitoring technologies, particularly those focused on clear air turbulence (CAT). NASA welcomes proposals that explore the methods, algorithms and quantitative assessment of turbulence for the purpose of increasing aviation safety and augmenting currently available data in support of NextGen operations. Lightning • Lightning Strike Protection - NASA is investigating means for mitigating damage to aircraft, with a particular interest in protecting composite aircraft. Currently, an electrically-conductive screen protects composite aircraft by functioning as a Faraday shield and is intended to confine lightning and electromagnetic effects to the outside or outermost skin of the aircraft. The lightning strike protection system, hereafter referred to as the LSP, is incorporated in the coatings, layers, and structure that comprise the skin of the aircraft. NASA is most interested in LSP solutions that will be cost effective and light-weight. • Mitigation of lightning strike damage - NASA is seeking solutions that will provide better protection from lightning damage by directing attachment points or lightning currents to safe or less hazardous areas and by reducing the susceptibility of the aircraft to thermal or other damage due to strikes. • In-flight lightning damage measurement and assessment - A typical commercial aircraft is struck by lightning about once per year. At this time, composite aircraft that are struck in-flight are inspected upon landing for a damage assessment. Such assessments may be time-consuming and difficult. Innovations that will provide a measurement or damage detection system in the LSP are solicited. The objective would be to achieve a capability to have damage detection and assessment capability in the aircraft that will provide immediate information to the flight crew after a lightning attachment.
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