DSTO continues to support Air Force

September, 2001

Testing of an engine rotor with blades in the AED Spin Rig facility.
As the Royal Australian Air Force celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) support remains crucial to its operations.

The foundations of organised scientific support to the Royal Australian Air Force are buried in the history of what is now DSTO's Aeronautical and Maritime Research Laboratory (AMRL) at Fishermens Bend. It is here that aeronautical research and support in Australia began on a serious scale.

The need for Australia to expand its industrial defence technology became imperative in the 1930s as events in Europe and developing militarism in Japan began to concern Australians. Industrial leaders called on the Lyons Government to establish an aircraft manufacturing industry with supporting test and research facilities.

A new laboratory was established in 1939 to support the RAAF, civil aviation and the aircraft and automotive industries. Lawrence Coombes was appointed laboratory chief and construction began on the Fishermens Bend site one month before the outbreak of World War II.

One of the first problems faced by the RAAF was aircraft structure failure through metal fatigue. In 1947 the first chief of the laboratory's Structures and Materials Division, Arthur Wills, pioneered the technique of determining aircraft life from full scale testing of aircraft structures in a laboratory. In 1950 further testing was conducted on 222 Mustang wings, lasting 12 years. It was the most comprehensive experimental research investigation ever carried out into the fatigue performance of a single type of aircraft structure. The results are still relevant today.

Fatigue testing of 222 Mustang wings over 12 years is still the most comprehensive series of fatigue results in the world.
DSTO's Fishermans Bend laboratory is now recognised as a world leader in aircraft fatigue. Today its Airframes and Engines Division (AED) undertakes fatigue testing of aircraft and helicopter airframes and components including the F-111 and F/A-18 aircraft. As Australia is now the only country flying the F-111 aircraft, a major responsibility for DSTO is to ensure the structural integrity of the F-111 fleet until its planned withdrawal date in 2020. Fatigue testing of the F/A-18 is being conducted in collaboration with Canada under the International Follow-On Structural Testing Project (IFOSTP). DSTO is also fatigue testing the AP3-C Orion as part of the Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP) with the United States Navy, Canada and the Netherlands. It is also undertaking life assessment studies of the LIF Hawk, C130H and C130J. Last year DSTO completed a full-scale fatigue test of the PC-9 Pilatus trainer. It is estimated to have saved the RAAF $438 million on life extension of this aircraft for a test program cost of $7 million.

DSTO has conducted many wind tunnel tests at its Fishermens Bend Laboratory on behalf of the RAAF since the first low speed wind tunnel was commissioned in 1941. Tests are carried out to determine the aerodynamic characteristics of aircraft and stores. The wind tunnel was upgraded at a cost of $18 million and reopened in 1999. The commissioning of the refurbished tunnel has provided a major improvement to DSTO's testing capabilities.

In the 1970s DSTO, with the strong support of the RAAF, pioneered the use of bonded carbon and boron fibre doublers to repair cracked metal structures. This crack patching technology has been internationally marketed. The RAAF and major airlines now use it almost routinely to maintain their aircraft fleets.

The laboratory that produced the black box flight recorder also has a proud record in air accident investigation. DSTO's work has included investigations into a number of serious crashes including the crash of a Macchi in 1990, a P3C Orion in 1991, an F/A-18 Hornet in 1992 and the F-111 crash in Malaysia in 1999. Air accident investigation took a major leap forward when DSTO developed a wreckage position measurement system based on the Global Positioning System. This system quickly provides comprehensive detail for accident investigators.

Over the last 30 years DSTO has undertaken research into fuels to enhance aircraft performance, reduce wear and tear on engines and save on operating costs. DSTO scientists have developed procedures to guarantee the quality of fuel stored in Defence facilities to meet the needs of the RAAF. DSTO also conducts extensive research into engine combustion and hot engine components to extend the life and performance of engines and reduce their infrared signatures.

International Follow-on Structural Test Project (IFOSTP). F/A-18 test article in the fatigue test rig.
The Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) is one outcome from DSTO's research and development into high frequency radar that began in the 1960s. JORN will be operational in 2002. It will consist of two radars, one in Western Australia and the other in Queensland that will provide wide area surveillance of the northern and western approaches to Australia.

The AMRAAM beyond visual range missile will enter service with the RAAF in November. DSTO's Weapons Systems Division (WSD) is supporting its introduction through advice on performance and tactics development issues. WSD is also assessing the ASRAAM missile after its selection as a replacement for the Sidewinder AIM-9 and is also involved in some of the aircraft interface issues.

Today DSTO scientists, in collaboration with the RAAF and industry, continue to make advances and are at the forefront of technological developments that support Australia's air defences. They are assisting the RAAF in the acquisition of new aircraft, the more recent being the new lead-in fighter. DSTO scientists are currently working with the RAAF on the acquisition and development of the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft that will form an important part of our air defence. DSTO scientists are providing specialist technical advice in structural integrity, usage, monitoring systems development and fatigue life estimation.

DSTO scientists are also working to equip the air force of the future with operational analysis, and research into human factors, space age helmets, unmanned aircraft, advanced software, virtual air environment, artificial intelligence, electronic warfare self protection and advanced command and control among many other projects.

Research is being conducted into 3-dimensional sound to reduce visual confusion in the cockpit and enhance the performance of the aircrew in a combat situation. The pilot's helmet gives the aircrew 3-dimensional sound cues that help them detect the direction and type of threats and targets.

DSTO has been researching the potential use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for several years. Recently the government announced the possibility of purchasing the United States' Global Hawk following the successful deployment to Australia in April this year.

Applying a demonstrator boron patch to a Macchi aircraft.
During the deployment it was demonstrated that RAAF could operate Global Hawk for maritime surveillance using new sensors designed by DSTO and a ground station developed by DSTO scientists in collaboration with industry.

In conjunction with the Australian National University, DSTO and the USAF are investigating the feasibility of applying insect vision principles for visual guidance and navigation of UAVs.

DSTO has played a major role in the history of the RAAF. Our scientists have assisted the RAAF to overcome many of its complex problems to become one of the best-trained and well-equipped forces in the world. DSTO is proud of its involvement with the RAAF and will continue to support the Air Force while researching new technologies that will take Australia's air defences into the 21st century.

A History of Defence Science in Australia by John Wisdom
The Leading Edge, Sixty Years of Aeronautical Research & Development for Australia's Defence 1939-1999

By Darryl Johnston

Australian aeronautical history in the making
1935 The Australian Aeronautical Research Committee of the Royal Australian Aeronautical Society calls on the Commonwealth Government to set up industrial research facilities.


Former Director of Scientific Research with the British Air Ministry, H.E. Wimperis, visits Australia to study the possibility of establishing an aeronautical research laboratory.
1939: Lawrence Coombes of the Royal Aircraft Establishment starts as head of the newly created Aeronautical and Engine Research Test Laboratory of the CSIR. Construction begins of new laboratories at Fishermens Bend.
1940: First buildings ready for occupation. The new laboratories are formally recognised as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Division of Aeronautics.
1941: The first wind tunnel is commissioned in Australia at CSIR labs at Fishermens Bend. First type tests in Australia of an aircraft engine completed. The Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) established under its original name, Special Duties and Performance Flight.
1943: Full scale structural testing begins with the completion of a structures wing bay.
1944: Research commenced on high temperature alloys, gas turbine combustion, fuels and lubrication.
1945: Australia's first high subsonic speed, variable wind tunnel is built. DSTO's first involvement in accident investigation following the Stinson A2W crash.
1946: Commonwealth Advisory Council Aeronautical Research Council (CAARC) formed to coordinate research among British Commonwealth countries.
1948: Institution of Engineers publishes Wills paper on aircraft fatigue. First meeting of CAARC.
1949: The Aeronautical and Engine Research Test Laboratory transferred from CSIR to the Department of Supply and Development and renamed Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL).
1950: Mustang fatigue program commences.
1951: Four divisions established within a newly restructured ARL. The High Speed Aerodynamics Division (HSAD) is located in Salisbury where construction begins on a 15 inch supersonic wind tunnel.
1952: Aircraft Structures Laboratory opens.
1954: Compressor Test House and High Pressure Combustion and Engine Testing facilities commissioned.
1955: All defence establishments in South Australia amalgamated into the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) HSAD becomes the Aerodynamics Division of WRE.
1957: ARL scientist Dr David Warren develops the Black Box Flight Recorder.
1960: Australia becomes the first country to make Flight Recorders mandatory in all aircraft.
1962: Mechanical Engineering Division building and hemispherical test dome for 3-D optical displays open.
1965: First simulation research undertaken.
1967: First launch of Australian satellite WRESAT at Woomera.
1972: Bonded repairs of cracked metal structure initiated. ARL transferred to the Department of Manufacturing Industry.
1973: H.A. Wills Fatigue Laboratory opens.
1974: ARL transferred to Department of Defence and became part of DSTO.
1985: Small Engines Test House becomes operational.
1987: Aeronautical Research Laboratories renamed Aeronautical Research Laboratory as part of the reorganisation of DSTO.
1989: Structural Test Laboratory opens capable of accommodating both F/A-18 and F-111 aircraft. Combustion Test Facility commissioned.
1990: ARL becomes a member of the Cooperative Research Centres for Aerospace Structures and Intelligent Decision Systems.
1994: Materials Research Laboratory and ARL merge to form the Aeronautical and Maritime Research Laboratory (AMRL).
1995: Air Operations Simulation Centre commissioned. The International Follow-On Structural Test Project (IFOSTP) on the F/A-18 Hornet officially launched.
1996: PC-9 Orion fatigue tests begin.
1999: New transonic wind tunnel opens.