Unmanned aerial vehicles are a modern day solution for reducing the time of inspections. This work aims to address the difficulties of using a UAV to inspect aircraft structures. Challenges such as non-uniform heating, low spatial resolution, and environmental noise cause some difficulties for defect detection and characterisation. Contrary to this, mounting sensors onto a UAV’s will further increase the noise, due to the motion, vibrations and sequence mismatching. Methods to tackle stabilisation and indoor localisation are used by utilising a Vicon system, this aims to increase the accuracy of the captured data when inspecting without GPS i.e. inspecting indoors. Other than active thermography, various methods were trialled to locate defects, passive thermography, photogrammetry and RGB image processing.
Transient thermography is a method used successfully in the evaluation of composite materials and aerospace structures. It has the capacity to deliver both qualitative and quantitative results about hidden defects or features in a composite structure. Aircraft must undergo routine maintenance – inspection to check for any critical damage and thus to ensure its safety. This work aims to address the challenge of NDT automated inspection and improve the defects’ detection by suggesting an autonomous thermographic imaging approach using a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) active thermographic system. The concept of active thermography is discussed and presented in the inspection of aircraft CFRP panels along with the mission planning for aerial inspection using the UAV for real time inspection. Results indicate that the suggested approach could significantly reduce the inspection time, cost, and workload, whilst potentially increase the probability of detection of defects on aircraft composites.