Section: Application Domains


The aging of aerospace structures is a major current concern of civilian and military aircraft operators. Another key driving factor for SHM is to increase the operation and support efficiency of an air vehicle fleet. A SHM system is viewed as a component of a global integrated vehicle health management (IVHM) system. An overview of the users needs can be found in [28] .

Improved safety and performance and reduced aircraft development and operating costs are other major concerns. One of the critical design objectives is to clear the aircraft from unstable aero-elastic vibrations (flutter) in all flight conditions. This requires a careful exploration of the dynamical behavior of the structure subject to vibration and aero-servo-elastic forces. This is achieved via a combination of ground vibration tests and in-flight tests. For both types of tests, various sensors data are recorded, and modal analyses are performed. Important challenges of the in-flight modal analyses are the limited choices for measured excitation inputs, and the presence of unmeasured natural excitation inputs (turbulence). A better exploitation of flight test data can be achieved by using output-only system identification methods, which exploits data recorded under natural excitation conditions (e.g., turbulent), without resorting to artificial control surface excitation and other types of excitation inputs [10] .

A crucial issue is to ensure that the newly designed airplane is stable throughout its operating range. A critical instability phenomenon, known under the name of “aero-elastic flutter, involves the unfavorable interaction of aerodynamic, elastic, and inertia forces on structures to produce an unstable oscillation that often results in structural failure” [33] . For preventing from this phenomenon, the airplane is submitted to a flight flutter testing procedure, with incrementally increasing altitude and airspeed. The problem of predicting the speed at which flutter can occur is usually addressed with the aid of identification methods achieving modal analysis from the in-flight data recorded during these tests. The rationale is that the damping coefficient reflects the rate of increase or decrease in energy in the aero-servo-elastic system, and thus is a relevant measure of stability. Therefore, while frequencies and mode-shapes are usually the most important parameters in structural analysis, the most critical ones in flutter analysis are the damping factors, for some critical modes. The mode-shapes are usually not estimated for flutter testing.

Until the late nineties, most approaches to flutter clearance have led to data-based methods, processing different types of data. A combined data-based and model-based method has been introduced recently under the name of flutterometer. Based on an aero-elastic state-space model and on frequency-domain transfer functions extracted from sensor data under controlled excitation, the flutterometer computes on-line a robust flutter margin using the μ-method for analyzing the worst case effects of model uncertainty. In recent comparative evaluations using simulated and real data [30] , [34] , several data-based methods are shown to fail in accurately predicting flutter when using data from low speed tests, whereas the flutterometer turns out not to converge to the true flutter speed during envelope expansion, due to inherent conservative predictions.

Algorithms achieving the on-line in-flight exploitation of flight test data are expected to allow a more direct exploration of the flight domain, with improved confidence and reduced costs. Among other challenges, one important issue to be addressed on-line is the flight flutter monitoring problem, stated as the problem of monitoring some specific damping coefficients. On the other hand, it is known, e.g. from Cramer-Rao bounds, that damping factors are difficult to estimate accurately. For improving the estimation of damping factors, and moreover for achieving this in real-time during flight tests, one possible although unexpected route is to rely on detection algorithms able to decide whether some damping factor decreases below some critical value or not. The rationale is that detection algorithms usually have a much shorter response time than identification algorithms.