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Technique senses damage before it hurts

Engineers have long dreamed of equipping aircraft, bridges, and other structures with sensor arrays that would give advance warning of structural failures. Researchers now report an analytical technique that may distinguish real damage from ordinary variation. Such a method in airliners might one day help pilots preempt tragedies such as the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which killed 265 people, says Douglas E. Adams of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. The plane plunged into a New York neighborhood on Nov. 12, possibly because of mechanical failures.

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