Plane engines analysed for ash effects

A major US aircraft engine maker will investigate the effects of volcanic ash on the engines of an aircraft that flew through the plume.

A major US aircraft engine maker will investigate the effects of volcanic ash on the engines of an aircraft that flew through the plume.

The two TPE331 turboprops powered a German Dornier 228 operated by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council. Ronald Rich, vice president of propulsion systems at Honeywell, said they have been returned to Phoenix, Arizona, where they would be disassembled and analysed in detail.

The plane accumulated 10 hours of operation in the volcanic ash cloud and an additional 22 hours of operation in the outer zone of the cloud. It was collecting particulate data at one second intervals during the flights, along with navigational and engine operational data.

"The industry has little information on the effects of volcanic ash ingestion in turbine engines. We hope the data we gain from this effort will help define operational impact to the engine and any damage to components," said Rich "These volcanic eruptions give us an opportunity to systematically analyse volcanic ash impact to our engines and this examination could yield a basis for future turbine engine performance and maintenance service data."

The Honeywell investigation is believed to be the first such detailed analysis of engines affected by ash particles since the five-day closure of European airspace last month.

The unprecedented closure of European airspace because of a volcano caused direct losses of more than £900 million to the airlines affected, and as much as £1.3 billion to other businesses.

Few doubt that flying a plane directly into the plumes of a volcano could disable the aircraft. But it remains unclear whether the abrasive particles present a hazard to the jets outside the immediate area of the volcanic plume, once it is dispersed by high-altitude winds.

Over the past three decades, civil aviation has become increasingly aware of the dangers of flying through the microscopic fragments of rock and pumice that make up ash clouds.

Jet engines are highly complex machines designed to function in environments free of debris and corrosive gases, and the effects of volcanic ash have severely endangered safety on flights that directly overflew erupting volcanos. Inside the engines, the particles stick to the hot core and form a glasslike coating, grinding up turbines, bearings, and other moving parts. This can lead to the immediate loss of thrust and eventually to engine failure.

International regulators such as the International Civil Aviation organisation and the European Aviation Safety Agency have been trying to establish safe levels of particle contamination in the airspace.

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