Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 96–108 | Cite as

Solid Particle Erosion Testing of Helicopter Rotor Blade Materials

  • Marc Pepi
  • Richard Squillacioti
  • Lynne Pfledderer
  • Andrew Phelps
Technical Article---Peer-Reviewed


The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) was asked to participate in an OSD-funded erosion effort by the Coating Technology Integration Office at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Solid particle (sand) erosion testing was conducted by the University of Dayton Research Institute to determine the erosion resistance of materials currently used on the leading edges of Army aviation rotor blades of aircraft in Southwest Asia (SWA). This testing and evaluation was important for two reasons; first, Iraq and Afghanistan are the primary locations of our current anti-terror operations, and second, the sands within these two countries are the worst in the world from an erosion standpoint (dry conditions + freshest grains of sand + predominantly angular quartz grains + blowing winds). The sand utilized herein is considered even more erosive than the sand from these two countries, since they contain a higher concentration of quartz than the SWA sand. In 2005, observations of actual SWA field failures of helicopter rotor blade protective tapes and coatings were compared to existing state-of-the-art, laboratory-based sand erosion data during a U.S. Army sponsored program. Laboratory-produced data did not match the severity of field-use damage, even under extremely high levels of particle loading. The need to test to erosive failure representative of this environment was determined to be paramount in establishing relative performance levels of erosion resistant protective systems being screened for potential field use. The goal of this effort was to provide two synthetic sand formulas capable of testing various polymer-based candidate rotor blade protective systems to failure. The test media was derived from characterization of sand and dust materials unique to SWA. The synthetic sand mixtures developed by this effort will be incorporated in a new test protocol for sand erosion to represent a truly “worst case” test, with extended application to other aerospace components susceptible to sand erosion damage applicable to Department of Defense activities in most dry—hot desert regions. Comprehensive post-test analysis performed by ARL included: visual examination, mass loss calculations, erosion rate determination, surface roughness testing, volume loss calculations, scanning electron microscopy characterization, and metallography. As a result of post-test analysis, many trends were observed, with the results documented herein. The results of this testing have been used as a baseline for future testing of alternative materials and coating systems, and to prepare a solid particle erosion test standard (MIL-STD-3033).


Solid particle erosion Sand Erosive failure Coatings 



Thanks are extended to the following for their listed efforts: Chuck Blair, erosion testing and background information; Andy Phelps, sand information, editorial comments; Michael Lister, visual examination; Dr. Matt Trexler, scanning electron microscope; Carl Paxton, laser profilometry, metallography; George Martin, nanohardness testing; Dr. Ralph Adler, editorial review; and Dave Stone, background and fleet information.


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Copyright information

© ASM International 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marc Pepi
    • 1
  • Richard Squillacioti
    • 1
  • Lynne Pfledderer
    • 2
  • Andrew Phelps
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.US Army Research LaboratoryWeapons and Materials Research DirectorateAberdeen Proving GroundUSA
  2. 2.Coating Technology Integration OfficeWright-Patterson Air Force BaseUSA
  3. 3.University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI)DaytonUSA
  4. 4.Coating Technology Integration OfficeWright-Patterson Air Force BaseUSA

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