In stepped-sine testing of strongly nonlinear structures with the classical force-control strategy, corrective force perturbations of a standard controller used to capture the reference signal in the proximity of turning points of frequency response curves may often lead to a premature jump before reaching the actual resonance peak. Accordingly, a classical force-control approach is not suitable to identify backbone curves of strongly nonlinear structures. This paper shows that currently available commercial modal test equipment can accurately identify backbone curves of strongly nonlinear structures by using Response-Controlled stepped-sine Testing (RCT) and the Harmonic Force Surface (HFS) concept, both recently proposed by the authors. These methods can be applied to systems where there are many nonlinearities at several different (and even unknown) locations. However, these techniques are not applicable to systems where internal resonances occur. In RCT, the displacement amplitude of the driving point, rather than the amplitude of the applied force, is kept constant during the stepped-sine testing. Spectra of the harmonic excitation force measured at several different displacement amplitude levels are used to build up a smooth HFS. Isocurves of constant amplitude forcing on the HFS lead to constant-force frequency response curves with accurately measured turning points and unstable branches (if there are any), which makes it possible to identify backbone curves of strongly nonlinear structures experimentally. The validation of the proposed approach is demonstrated with numerical and experimental case studies. A five degree-of-freedom (DOF) lumped system with five cubic stiffness elements, which create strong conservative nonlinearity, is used in the numerical example. Experimental case studies consist of a cantilever beam and a control fin actuation mechanism of a real missile structure. The cantilever beam is supported at its free-end by two metal strips constrained at both ends to create strong stiffening nonlinearity. The control fin actuation mechanism exhibits very complex and strong nonlinearity due to backlash and friction.
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