Aging aircraft researcher identifies optimal teardown process

WICHITA — Unlike most researchers at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), Melinda Laubach-Hock doesn’t focus on new high-tech aircraft materials. That’s because she is the director of the Aging Aircraft Laboratory, where disassembling, inspecting and documenting the condition of out-of-service aircraft is the norm.

Laubach-Hock’s recent doctoral dissertation, “Structural Teardown and Analysis: Evolution of the Teardown Process,” has streamlined and standardized the teardown evaluation process, allowing the lab to perform more quickly and effectively without compromising the quality of the data obtained through the structural teardown process.

“Throughout my career, I have participated in over 15 major structural teardown programs with government and private industry and have noticed the lack of a standardized teardown process has resulted in common pitfalls that have driven up cost, increased the time it takes to obtain results, and, in some cases, degraded the quality of the teardown data,” said Laubach-Hock. “At the request of government and industry members of past teardown programs, I developed the proposed teardown process in an effort to standardize the teardown process and incorporate lessons learned from previous teardown programs.

The dissertation format allows for this information to be distributed publicly, so anyone interested in structural teardown can benefit from the developed process, she noted.

A NIAR employee since 2002, Laubach-Hock completed her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Wichita State University last year. Her dissertation provides a step-by-step process for planning and executing a structural teardown program with the goal of minimizing or eliminating problems encountered during past teardown programs.

The process defines four steps to plan and three steps to execute a structural teardown. Four case studies of previous and ongoing teardowns are discussed and the methods implemented are compared to the proposed teardown process to assess potential improvements when using the proposed method.

Case studies included in the dissertation are: Evaluation of Airworthiness for Small Airplanes, C5A Structural Risk and Model Revalidation Program, Destructive Evaluation and Extended Fatigue Testing of Retired Aircraft Fuselage Structure and C/KC-135 Teardown and Analysis Program. Three of these prior teardown programs were executed in the early to mid 2000s by governmental agencies with industry and academic partners. The fourth case study, the C/KC-135 Teardown and Analysis Program, was developed from 2006 to 2008 and is currently being executed.

Lauback-Hock’s dissertation in its entirety is available for download here.

The Aging Aircraft Laboratory operates under non-disclosure agreements to perform teardown evaluations including large section extraction, detailed disassembly, chemical coatings removal, nondestructive inspection, failure analysis and process development. The lab can also provide engineering evaluations for stress, damage tolerance, finite element modeling and repair design.

“The newly developed process makes the Aging Aircraft Laboratory at NIAR an ideal option for industry and government agencies looking to assess the current condition of aircraft structures and develop methods for aircraft sustainment until retirement,” said Laubach-Hock.

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