Wiring a Problem for All Aging Aircraft, Not Just MD-80s

New technologies will diagnose faults in flight and even predict them, says aircraft-wiring expert Cynthia Furse

6 min read

Airports across the United States were choked last week with herds of stranded passengers when American Airlines, the country’s largest commercial carrier, called off thousands of takeoffs. The cause of this commuting calamity was a 7 April FAA inspection of nine Boeing MD-80s that revealed that some of the planes’ wiring had not been fastened in accordance with an earlier agency directive. In response, the FAA grounded hundreds of MD-80s and ordered fleetwide inspections of the jets’ electric wiring.

Was it a necessary move? Is there a technological fix that could have prevented such a seize up of the nation’s skies? Spectrum posed this and other questions to Cynthia Furse, a professor of electromagnetics at the University of Utah. Furse was coauthor of ” Down to the Wire,” an IEEE Spectrum feature article about the hidden hazards of airplane wiring, which appeared in the February 2001 issue. Since then she has been developing technologies that would detect wiring faults in flight. IEEE Spectrum’s Willie D. Jones spoke to her on 11 April 2008.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

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