With a lot of the Remote Visual Inspection technology in use today having originated in aeronautics, it’s no surprise that organizations like NASA continue to push the envelope and develop new methods of visual inspection and measurement. As seen in the photograph below, NASA uses a modern version of schlieren imagery to visualize supersonic flow phenomena with full-scale aircraft in flight. Appearing like ripples in a pond, the imaging of these shock waves using the sun as a background, allows scientists to see the way the air density changes around supersonic aircraft.
This is one of two exciting visual inspection technologies being developed by NASA to improve and understand supersonic flight – and potentially to develop designs that will mitigate the noise level generated when these aircraft break the sound barrier – replacing the sonic boom with a soft thump.
The overall goal of the schlieren imaging research is to develop a system to image the shock waves propagating from the bottom of the aircraft to the ground. This necessitates imaging a side view of the aircraft in near level flight.
So how is this going to improve the tools we’re currently using for remote visual inspection? The beauty of experimentation is that we don’t know. Rest assured though, with this much time and expertise being expended on visual imaging technologies and assessing flow data – we can be certain the future will hold some interesting developments in both flow measurement technology and visual imaging and make it’s way into the tools we use on the job every day.