New research conducted by a team of aerospace engineers at the UK-based University of Bristol has revealed that an acoustic blockage-detection system can avert future accidents by alerting pilots of a blocked Pitot before the situation becomes critical.

As part of the study, the researchers examined whether the traditional acoustic methods of detecting blockages in pipes or ears of newborn babies could be used in case of real aircraft Pitot tubes that can contain irregular shapes and passages.

The researchers have also studied the potential of traditional acoustic methods in discovering common blockage types such as tape, ice and insects.

“The effect of the background noise field in flight needs to be established before a flight operable system could be implemented.”

They have X-rayed three Pitot-statics from two different commercial aircraft using a CT scanner and conducted an acoustic study to detect the variation between blocked and unblocked reflected acoustic waves.

Various tests using different blockage types, including tape, insects, foam and metal, were also carried out on the same tubes.

Results of the tests have shown that it is possible to find blockages in small tubes and tubes containing non-cylindrical shapes.

University of Bristol senior aerospace engineering lecturer and research co-author Dr Thomas Rendall said: “In principle, the method could be adopted to help inform pilots if Pitots are blocked before they take off, or if they subsequently become blocked during a flight.

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“Our results are encouraging for a ground operable system, but the effect of the background noise field in flight needs to be established before a flight operable system could be implemented.”

Findings of the latest study are applicable for a Pitot in an aircraft stationed on the ground.

In the next phase of the study, the researchers expect to examine the acoustic blockage-detection system for in-flight operation, which will involve detailed noise data from a real aircraft.