News>Software team now tests wiring in minutes, not days
Jikai Feng, test developer, connects cables from the tester to a C-130. Robins Automatic Wire Test Set Team has developed software to automatically test aircraft wiring systems in minutes, whereas manual testing takes weeks. (U. S. Air Force photo/Sue Sapp)
Efran Rangel and Jikai Feng, test developers, run a test on a C-130. Robins Automatic Wire Test Set Team has developed software to automatically test aircraft wiring systems in minutes, whereas manual testing takes weeks. (U. S. Air Force photo/Sue Sapp)
3/15/2013 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga -- Testing complex electrical wiring systems inside aircraft mainframes may sound a bit intimidating, but for a team from the 580th Software Maintenance Squadron here, it's just another day at the office.
The team uses the Automatic Wire Test Set not only to support aircraft wire testing across multiple Air Force platforms, but Navy ships as well. The joint procurement effort for the sets rolled out in the fall of 2010.
Since then, software development for the test set has been maintained by the SMXS team, along with groups from C-5 and F-15 shops, to support ongoing field testing and the design and building of the tester's cables that hook into wire systems inside various aircraft.
"What's really interesting about this is we can go to an aircraft, connect to a system - and test all the wires in a matter of minutes," said Jacob Lunce, SMXS Flight J project manager for the system.
In the past, wire testing of various systems would sometimes take up to a week or more when done with a hand-held meter.
"It's a major time savings," he added. "This tester can basically do what you can't do by hand, which takes this testing to a whole new level."
The team goes out on the flight line or to maintenance facilities at other bases about once a month to conduct tests. Since the tester is relatively new, Lunce explained that the Robins team was the first group ever to take charge of the tester's programming capabilities as well as its cable design.
"We are pioneering this effort," he said.
Once the AWTS team receives a customer requirement, which can also come from highly-specialized systems inside Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft, C-130s or even HH-60 helicopters, the team takes a system's engineering data (technical orders, wiring diagrams, etc.), learns the system and programs it into the tester line by line by using their software. The process can take several months.
Once it's ready, the tester is unpacked with its cables, and hooked into hundreds of different wiring components.
Looking on a computer screen, a continuity test for example can easily detect whether a wire's electrical resistance is good or bad and needs to be replaced, or if wire faults are also identified.
To date, the tester has experienced a 100 percent success rate, but there's always room for improvement, said Lunce.
"This can turn an inexperienced maintainer into a super-experienced troubleshooter because it does all the work for you," he explained.
Using the tester for preventive maintenance is something else he'd like to see happen. For example, testing the integrity of a plane's wiring system over time and incorporating it as a tool with inspections can lead to finding problems early.
That only leads to less time planes are on the ground for maintenance.
Since 2010, about 30 to 40 tests have been run on various aircraft.
With each new test comes a better understanding of how to best support the aircraft and maintainers.
Maintainers, who may be reluctant to test the new equipment, quickly adopt it as a supplemental tool when they realize the benefits - especially in the present atmosphere of doing more with less, and tighter deadlines.