TEES San Antonio research center gets $1 million for rotor blade protection research

October 27, 2006
| By: Aubrey Bloom

SAN ANTONIO -- Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) researchers in San Antonio have received $1 million for helicopter rotor blade protection research. Dr. John F. Ayala will direct the project, "Rotor Blade Protection Against Sand and Water Erosion," which aims to improve the protective coatings on rotor blades. Ayala directs the Aerospace, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering Division in TEES's Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT) in San Antonio and also chairs the Academic Center for Aging Aircraft (ACAA), which focuses research on issues related to aging aircraft in the military under the guidance and direction of the Joint Council on Aging Aircraft, composed of representatives of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Logistics Agency. Other principal investigators will be Dr. Paul Cizmas and Dr. John Slattery, both faculty in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University, and researchers from the University of Dayton Research Institute. Congress has funded the project for Fiscal Year 2007 because of the research's importance to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). "The current war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are in sandy, desert terrain," Ayala said. "The sand is eroding the paint of the main and tail rotor blades of the helicopters, which has a big impact on the readiness of the helicopters. A similar problem occurs when operating in humid marine environments or rain. "We can extend the useful life of rotor blades by having coatings that are not easily eroded," Ayala said. Congressman Henry Bonilla, who was instrumental in securing funding for the research, said, "The United States has the most technologically advanced military in the world, but maintaining this highly-specialized equipment is as vital as its development. The tiniest particles of sand can cause tremendous damage over time to the aircraft rotor blades. With our ongoing operations in the Middle East, now more than ever we need to focus on protecting our military aircraft in this harsh environment. I am proud to be able to secure $1 million for this project to study the effects of water and sand erosion so that we might develop the necessary coating to prevent further damage." The rotor blade protection research began two years ago with an ACAA project that resulted in a method that accelerated the testing and screening of coatings for helicopters rotor blade protection against sand. Coatings help protect rotor blades against premature aging due to environmental conditions, and Texas A&M aerospace engineering professors Cizmas and Slattery developed the first approach for evaluating relative sand-erosion resistance. "The erosion of these protective coatings can have significant impact on helicopter readiness, and evaluating these coatings will help the armed services," said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of engineering. "This is just one of the many ways TEES and Texas A&M engineering researchers are applying their knowledge to make a difference, and we are grateful to Congressman Bonilla for his support." The coatings are eroded by sand, water or both, Ayala said. The Texas A&M approach looks at all three types of erosion and also can be used to identify how coatings should be redesigned to improve adhesiveness and effectiveness of coatings. The TEES researchers will work with the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), an ACAA partner institution, which does sand erosion testing for the Department of Defense. The University of Dayton Research Institute, with its U.S. Air Force Particle Erosion Test Facility and Rain Erosion Test Facility, can simulate these environments and evaluate the erosion effects on coated aircraft surfaces. Cizmas and Slattery plan to extend the Texas A&M approach for sand erosion to water erosion. A testing program will include the influence of sand particle and water droplet size, impact angle, coating thickness, adhesive type, impact velocity and temperature. The end result is to be able to qualify and certify various coatings that DOD should procure or even invest in for rotor blades. "We can help the DOD pick the best coatings and also influence coating design," Ayala said. The Texas Engineering Experiment Station is the engineering research agency of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

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