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Drone Checks Aircraft Body For Dings and Dents

French Defence Agency Tests Automated Scanning, Mapping Tech

A French Defense Innovation Agency program, in conjunction with 8tree, Donecle and Dassault, has completed a year-long field trial for an autonomous, non-destructive surface checking system.

Using 8Tree's dentCHECK, a proprietary 3d dent-mapping technology, loaded on a Donecle drone, operators are able to scour the surface of an aircraft for dents automatically in less than an hour. Focusing on the Dassault Rafale Fighter, the program is set for continued field trials, with lessons applied to future commercial service. 

The current methods of evaluation seem almost anachronistic in comparison. Using crew to scour the aircraft visually can be taxing, difficult work, as they try to gauge surface uniformity with their eyes from a fixed, limited field of view. Turnaround time pressures, subjective written descriptions, or insufficient imagery can all further complicate dent evaluation, especially when tracking a problem between different crewmembers. The drone safely alleviates those quality shortcomings while documenting and recording changes in superb detail. It scans the entirety of the aircraft, inspecting surface variances within an accuracy of 0.1mm of depth and 2mm of width, while recording and comparing the results to past records.

Erik Klaas, 8Tree CEO, says it’s an improvement on the process in every way. “It’s all about automating non-destructive testing tasks and procedures. The 100% automated flying dentCHECK drastically reduces the time taken to inspect an aircraft while improving the quality of maintenance operations significantly.”

The system is not entirely perfect, however. Arun Chabbra, founder of 8Tree, describes their tools as purpose-built for each task. “dentCHECK empowers users with instant-actionable measurement answers, not dense point cloud data, without requiring users to ever get involved with the underlying science of 3D scanning theory. There are trade-offs to our approach. Unlike general purpose 3D scanners, our tools cannot be re-programmed by the user to solve a completely different measurement problem.

Instead, each is optimized to solve for one, and only one chronic industry problem.” 

FMI: www.donecle.com, www.8-tree.com

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