Today at the Farnborough International Airshow in England, Airbus demonstrated the use of drones to visually inspect an airplane.
Airbus says its drone, equipped with a high-definition camera, can perform a visual inspection for the upper part of the aircraft. Flown using an automatic flight control system supervised by a human pilot, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) follows a predetermined path and takes a series of pictures automatically.
The images – especially those showing any potential scratches, dents and painting defects – are compiled in a 3D digital model, recorded in a database and then analyzed by personnel. This data helps improve traceability, prevention and reduction of damage, says Airbus.
The company says benefits of the process are significant: Airplane downtime for inspection is reduced, considering data acquisition via UAV takes only 10-15 minutes, instead of two hours using conventional methods. In addition, operators do not need to go up on a telescopic handler to perform the visual inspection (sometimes in poor weather conditions). Moreover, imagery analysis can be done anytime afterwards and in an office.
“The use of this new technology offers better working conditions, including improving the safety and comfort for the quality inspectors,” says Nathalie Ducombeau, Airbus’ head of quality.
A full-scale industrial test is currently being conducted on an A330. The aircraft manufacturing giant says it is currently working on drone implementation for other inspection programs.