DSTO continues to support Air Force
The foundations of organised scientific support to the Royal Australian Air Force are buried in the history of what is now DSTO's Aeronautical and Maritime Research Laboratory (AMRL) at Fishermens Bend. It is here that aeronautical research and support in Australia began on a serious scale.
The need for Australia to expand its industrial defence technology became imperative in the 1930s as events in Europe and developing militarism in Japan began to concern Australians. Industrial leaders called on the Lyons Government to establish an aircraft manufacturing industry with supporting test and research facilities.
A new laboratory was established in 1939 to support the RAAF, civil aviation and the aircraft and automotive industries. Lawrence Coombes was appointed laboratory chief and construction began on the Fishermens Bend site one month before the outbreak of World War II.
One of the first problems faced by the RAAF was aircraft structure failure through metal fatigue. In 1947 the first chief of the laboratory's Structures and Materials Division, Arthur Wills, pioneered the technique of determining aircraft life from full scale testing of aircraft structures in a laboratory. In 1950 further testing was conducted on 222 Mustang wings, lasting 12 years. It was the most comprehensive experimental research investigation ever carried out into the fatigue performance of a single type of aircraft structure. The results are still relevant today.
DSTO has conducted many wind tunnel tests at its Fishermens Bend Laboratory on behalf of the RAAF since the first low speed wind tunnel was commissioned in 1941. Tests are carried out to determine the aerodynamic characteristics of aircraft and stores. The wind tunnel was upgraded at a cost of $18 million and reopened in 1999. The commissioning of the refurbished tunnel has provided a major improvement to DSTO's testing capabilities.
In the 1970s DSTO, with the strong support of the RAAF, pioneered the use of bonded carbon and boron fibre doublers to repair cracked metal structures. This crack patching technology has been internationally marketed. The RAAF and major airlines now use it almost routinely to maintain their aircraft fleets.
The laboratory that produced the black box flight recorder also has a proud record in air accident investigation. DSTO's work has included investigations into a number of serious crashes including the crash of a Macchi in 1990, a P3C Orion in 1991, an F/A-18 Hornet in 1992 and the F-111 crash in Malaysia in 1999. Air accident investigation took a major leap forward when DSTO developed a wreckage position measurement system based on the Global Positioning System. This system quickly provides comprehensive detail for accident investigators.
Over the last 30 years DSTO has undertaken research into fuels to enhance aircraft performance, reduce wear and tear on engines and save on operating costs. DSTO scientists have developed procedures to guarantee the quality of fuel stored in Defence facilities to meet the needs of the RAAF. DSTO also conducts extensive research into engine combustion and hot engine components to extend the life and performance of engines and reduce their infrared signatures.
The AMRAAM beyond visual range missile will enter service with the RAAF in November. DSTO's Weapons Systems Division (WSD) is supporting its introduction through advice on performance and tactics development issues. WSD is also assessing the ASRAAM missile after its selection as a replacement for the Sidewinder AIM-9 and is also involved in some of the aircraft interface issues.
Today DSTO scientists, in collaboration with the RAAF and industry, continue to make advances and are at the forefront of technological developments that support Australia's air defences. They are assisting the RAAF in the acquisition of new aircraft, the more recent being the new lead-in fighter. DSTO scientists are currently working with the RAAF on the acquisition and development of the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft that will form an important part of our air defence. DSTO scientists are providing specialist technical advice in structural integrity, usage, monitoring systems development and fatigue life estimation.
DSTO scientists are also working to equip the air force of the future with operational analysis, and research into human factors, space age helmets, unmanned aircraft, advanced software, virtual air environment, artificial intelligence, electronic warfare self protection and advanced command and control among many other projects.
Research is being conducted into 3-dimensional sound to reduce visual confusion in the cockpit and enhance the performance of the aircrew in a combat situation. The pilot's helmet gives the aircrew 3-dimensional sound cues that help them detect the direction and type of threats and targets.
DSTO has been researching the potential use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for several years. Recently the government announced the possibility of purchasing the United States' Global Hawk following the successful deployment to Australia in April this year.
In conjunction with the Australian National University, DSTO and the USAF are investigating the feasibility of applying insect vision principles for visual guidance and navigation of UAVs.
DSTO has played a major role in the history of the RAAF. Our scientists have assisted the RAAF to overcome many of its complex problems to become one of the best-trained and well-equipped forces in the world. DSTO is proud of its involvement with the RAAF and will continue to support the Air Force while researching new technologies that will take Australia's air defences into the 21st century.
A History of Defence Science in Australia by John Wisdom
The Leading Edge, Sixty Years of Aeronautical Research & Development for Australia's Defence 1939-1999