posted October 11, 2006

Research Seeks to Reduce Aircraft Blast Damage

Even as security measures internationally endeavor to prevent terrorists from smuggling explosives onto aircraft, Dr. Roger Veldman of the Hope College engineering faculty is conducting research he hopes will make a difference if the unthinkable does happen.

Veldman, an associate professor of engineering, is engaged in a multi-year, ongoing research effort to help aircraft better withstand internal explosions. His work has recently received funding from the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security, the third in a series of federal grants in support of his work in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in 2001.

"The idea is, how can you make aircraft structures more robust if something does make it through the security system," he said.

"It's a continuation of the research I've been doing the past several years, this time looking at protective lining materials to better protect the structure," he said. "Can you come up with a material that's lightweight but still gives you the performance in energy absorption that you're looking for."

Veldman, who has taught at Hope since 1998, has been investigating "aircraft hardening" since he was a doctoral student at Western Michigan University in the mid-1990s. His interest in the topic began while he was still an undergraduate, when a few days before Christmas in 1988 a bomb destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The loss of life moved him.

Veldman's research, which he pursues collaboratively with a team of three Hope students, involves both conducting tests with explosives under controlled conditions at Batelle Memorial Institute's laboratories in Columbus, Ohio, and developing and evaluating computer models of the same situations.

The models, he noted, are an important complement to the testing. If models can be developed that accurately reflect the actual events, tests could ultimately be conducted more cheaply and quickly via computer.

Veldman's research has progressed through the years from exploring how simple sheets of aircraft aluminum react; to testing assemblies of sheeting and framework; to its current emphasis on determining lining materials that could absorb and deflect a blast near an aircraft's outer skin. He and his research team tested some such materials this summer, such as a honeycomb-shaped aluminum composite, work that will continue with the latest support.