NASA researchers are poring over data from a recent test that involved sending volcanic ash through an airplane engine. The primary issue, according to NASA, is that volcanic ash forms glass in the hot sections of some engines that clogs cooling holes and chokes off flow within the engine, which can eventually lead to an engine power loss.

The volcanic ash distribution spider, shown here in the inlet of the engine while running, was used to send the ultra-fine particles of ash through the engine. (NASA Armstrong)

NASA partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce Liberty Works, General Electric Aviation, and Boeing Research & Technology to conduct engine tests. Researchers introduced simulated volcanic ash into the engines at low and high flow rates.

The researchers found erosion on the inside of the blades - a cleaning of the blades. As the ash comes through the hot section, it turns into very small volcanic glass droplets that accumulate on the inside of the engine. The result was erosion in the compressor, and “glassification” in the turbine. Results are expected to be publicly released next summer.