Hope Engineering Professor Seeks to
Help Aircraft Survive
Posted April 22, 2002
HOLLAND -- As society works to make commercial
flying safer in the post-Sept. 11 world, a Hope College
professor's research prompted by an earlier tragedy has
taken on added relevance.
Dr. Roger Veldman, assistant professor of
engineering, is studying how to help airplanes better
withstand internal explosions. His work has recently
received support through a two-year grant from the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Research Grants
Program, as part of the FAA's support of research into
methods to counteract terrorist activities.
He has investigated the topic since beginning his
doctoral research in the mid-1990s, but his interest goes
back to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
"My real interest in this research began with the
bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 of Lockerbie, Scotland, on
December 21, 1988," Veldman said. "At the time I was a
senior at Hope College and I was particularly moved by the
loss of so many lives, including 35 Syracuse University
students as they returned to the U.S. just prior to
Christmas, after spending a semester studying overseas."
"Several years later, when searching for a
suitable topic for a doctoral dissertation, my advisor at
Western Michigan University, Dr. Judah Ari-Gur, suggested
research aimed at minimizing commercial aircraft damage
under internal blast loading," he said. "I was immediately
sold on the idea, and have spent the past several years
conducting research in this area."
Veldman is examining how the aluminum skin of a
commercial aircraft responds to an explosive force from
within the aircraft, particularly considering the effects of
cabin pressurization for high-altitude flights. Over the
course of the two-year project, he and the Hope engineering
students working with him will run computer simulations and
conduct field tests on small sections of the material, to
test the difference made when pressurization changes.
In addition to building understanding of how the
materials respond, he is also hoping to help refine the
research approach to enhance its usefulness in making
aircraft more resilient. Most work thus far, he noted, has
involved testing full-size aircraft--a process which has the
virtue of being realistic, but is also expensive, time-
consuming to prepare, and requires a new aircraft for each
"The idea of this project is to go to the opposite
end of the spectrum," Veldman said. "Which is to use a
simplified structure that allows many tests to be run in a
very quick manner to evaluate the effects of key
The disadvantage in computer modeling and smaller
testing, he said, is that the simulations might not reflect
reality. If through his analysis he finds that the modeling
and testing match the results from full-scale trials done
before, he might help give researchers a tool that will
allow them to do more work less expensively. While a single
full-scale test might cost several million dollars, for
example, he anticipates being able to conduct 40 to 50 tests
through the $101,884 he has received from the FAA.
Veldman's hope is that what he learns, about both
the materials and his methodology, will help other
researchers as they consider the topic as well.
"This project won't be proposing a solution," he
said. "It's more seeking an understanding of the most
critical factors that are involved in the process for use in
developing effective counter-measures."