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Comparative Nondestructive Evaluation of Horizontal Stabilator Composite Structures

Flight control surfaces (FCS) of some military aircraft are made of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer composite skins bonded onto aluminum honeycomb core. Over the years, FCS, such as horizontal stabilators (HStab), are subject to impact damage, hail, and water ingress that can lead to disbonds. The HStab leading edge outboard forward rib of a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft contains an area that is challenging for nondestructive inspection due to material stack up in that region. This caused current inspection procedure to lack the capability to detect some defects (misses) and a high number of false detection. Although currently treated as a non-inspectable area, it is desirable to have a reliable inspection technique for this area since it is subject to high dynamic loads and airflow. In this work, inspection results using pulsed thermography, bond testing and ultrasonic pulse echo are compared for inspecting different HStab outboard forward ribs. The inspection results revealed that both bond testing and pulsed thermography are capable of detecting disbonds in the outboard forward rib area of that aircraft HStab.

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