Can This Volcanic Ash Test Help Prevent Engine Failure In Planes?

Engine failure is an occasional and unfortunate reality of flight. There are a number of reasons why it can occur, including ice buildup on the wings, atmospheric variables, weather occurrences and other issues that are often not easy to predict or address once a plane is in the air. NASA researchers are now trying to gain a better understanding of engine faults and issues by introducing a number of operational and environmental variables to two F-117 turbofan engines. One very unique test relies on volcanic ash.

NASA’s Volcanic Ash Test Aims To Study Engine Health, Improve Aviation Safety | CBS Los Angeles

Image Source: CBS Los Angeles

Image Source: CBS Los Angeles

These tests include studying the engine through normal engine operations, seeded mechanical faults, seeded gas path faults, and finally, accelerated engine life degradation through the ingestion of volcanic ash. […] ‘Volcanic ash for us, initially, was a medium that we could use to fully degrade the aircraft’s engine, and we’re interested in degrading the engine to see how well our health management technologies pick up these faults, and how well we can determine what the trend of the engine is going to be. We chose volcanic ash because it’s an interesting way to fault an engine, but it’s also something that hasn’t been carefully studied, and it’s something that is definitely a need that we have.’ [said principal investigator John Lekki of NASA’s Glenn Research Center]”

Considering that volcanic ash tests are relatively new, do you think this research will reveal anything significant about engine performance under such conditions? Will we make a significant step toward safer flights as a result? Share your thoughts in the comments.