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Tags Take Test Flights On Jet Engines

Boeing and Delta will test how well tags hold up in harsh conditions
Boeing Co. and Delta Air Lines Inc. in July will begin testing whether radio-frequency identification tags can be used on jet engines to track maintenance requirements and history. The companies hope to determine how well the tags hold up under the extreme conditions of an engine environment.

RFID tags inside ceramic capsules will be attached to jet engines like this one.

RFID tags inside ceramic capsules will be attached to jet engines like this one.
One Pratt & Whitney engine on each of about 14 Boeing 737 planes will have an RFID tag sealed in a ceramic capsule attached to it to determine if the tags can withstand extreme vibrations and temperatures ranging from 60 degrees below zero to 900 degrees. Technicians at Delta's Atlanta hub will read the tags when the commercial flights land in the evening for overnight maintenance checks.

If the tags can endure those conditions, they'll replace the metal plates used to carry parts information, says Judy Harrison, Delta's engine-maintenance regulatory-compliance analyst. "The next step is for Boeing and Airbus to write maintenance requirements for parts on the tags and inform their suppliers of the project," she says.

Information will be encoded on the RFID tags and linked back to a database with details on warranty and part-replacement history to give information quickly to the technicians in the field. The companies will use bar codes alongside the RFID tags for supplemental information.

The test is a precursor to a tagging program that Boeing and rival Airbus SAS will require of their suppliers. The two are working jointly to write industry standards for describing parts used in the commercial aircraft sector because they use products from roughly 70% of the same suppliers. The Federal Aviation Administration last week gave the OK to perform the tests on commercial flights. Approval came after a two-year trial between FedEx Corp. and Boeing.