Drone-based Aircraft Inspection Adds Dent Mapping Capability

Credit: Donecle

Two aircraft inspection technology providers have paired up to provide a combined solution for dent scanning via drone. The new solution from Donecle and 8tree will feature an automated drone to scan areas of aircraft prone to dents—such as doors, the leading edge and tail—and analysis software to map and measure dents, then generate a report.

Donecle says it has had 3D dent analysis on its to-do list since its drone inspection technology first began development and it spent several months conducting research into various 3D sensing technologies. According to Donecle, the process of successfully pairing 3D sensors and dent analysis technology with a UAV is complicated, so it needed to find the right partner to develop the solution and bring it to market.

Donecle began working with 8tree in early 2018 after being introduced via Starburst Accelerator the previous year. The companies conducted initial tests before accelerating their collaboration under the approval of France’s Directorate General of Armaments (DGA), working together with Dassault on inspecting Rafale aircraft.

Donecle inspection of Dassault Rafale
Credit: Donecle

“We have a long history with Dassault and the French MoD and Defence Innovation Agency,” says Joss Bequet, CEO of Donecle. “It made sense for us to partner with end users and an OEM we already work with and who have a high level of availability.” Since Dassault covers the full scope of design, manufacturing and maintenance of its military and commercial aircraft, Bequet notes that it was able to contribute expertise in terms of both aircraft design and damage tolerance, as well as in customer support to ensure the solution is integrated in the existing maintenance workflow.

Through the collaboration, 8tree miniaturized its handheld dentCHECK tool to create what Bequet says is a “drone-friendly version that satisfies payload weight/size constraints.” Several 8tree and Donecle customers were involved in providing requirements and feedback on the combined solution, which the companies say can provide faster inspections, better accuracy and improved worker safety. Bequet notes that the system is not just limited to military and business aircraft, and may be even more relevant for cargo and commercial aircraft with tight turnaround time constraints.

The companies say they are “making good progress,” including promising lab tests and the first field-tests on aircraft. “We are still reviewing the schedule for initial pre-deployment with select partners (airlines and MROs) and subsequent larger-scale deployment, specifically in light of the current context and its impact on our customers’ business operations and travel restrictions,” says Bequet. Donecle and 8tree expect larger deployment to happen in 2021 and say more information will be available soon.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for AviationWeek.com, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.