VDATS becomes family tester for Air Force, DOD

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78 ABW/PA
When Team Robins members began working to create a common-core tester as a solution for testing problems here at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, few members of the team would have guessed the tester would become a member of both the Air Force and Department of Defense family of testers.

The Air Force has never had a tester named to the DOD family of testers before, said Dempsey Ventress, engineer support element chief with the 402nd Electronics Maintenance Support Squadron.

"It is huge. All DOD components can use VDATS," said Jeff Miller, director of the Electronics Maintenance Squadron.

In 2000, Mr. Ventress came up with the original concept for the common-core tester. He solicited other members of the electronics and software community to help his concept reach fruition. In 2005 the concept received $57 million in funding from Air Force Materiel Command as part of transformation funds.

Then in 2006 the common-core tester became officially known as Versatile Depot Automatic Test Station as part of the Automatic Test Equipment Transformation project.

Before VDATS became a reality, the variety of testers at Robins needed to accomplish the repair mission was enormous making the maintenance of the testers a daunting task.

"All the testers were different, so it was a nightmare to maintain," Mr. Miller said.

Before VDATS, Robins required 268 legacy testers to test the different weapons systems and aircraft components at the Center.

The legacy testers were difficult and expensive to maintain, repair parts for the testers were unavailable and workers with knowledge of the legacy testers was diminishing.

The hardware and software design and construction of the VDATS was all completed at Robins through a partnership between hardware and software engineers from the 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group and the 402nd Software Maintenance Group.

By building and maintaining them with Robins' resources instead of commercial resources, the cost savings for the first year was about $12 million.

However, members from both sides of the partnership acknowledged the tester would have not been named to the Air Force or DOD family of testers without the assistance of the 542nd Combat Sustainment Wing.

It was Col. David French, commander of the 742nd Combat Sustainment Group, who sits as the senior Air Force representative on the Automatic Test System management board, who pitched VDATS to join the DOD family of testers.

Colonel French said his goal for VDATS is to bring a common-core tester to the Air Force to enable the Air Force to achieve its mission in the best way possible.

One of the advantages of having the tester named to the Air Force family of testers is the requirement for new weapon systems to examine VDATS first as a test system said Jim Volz, 565th Combat Sustain-ment Squadron depot repair capability flight chief. This also means the other depots will be considering VDATS.

"If something pulled Bldg. 640 and 645 offline, we could be up and running at one of the other two centers in a matter of days or a week," Mr. Volz added.

Now that the system has been named to both the Air Force and the DOD family of testers, Mr. Volz expects the workload to explode. He said they already have commercial vendors approaching them about possible partnerships relating to the tester.

Mr. Volz said the thing that really sets this tester apart from other testers is the transportability of the workload.

Not only does the VDATS help reduce the amount of testers required to accomplish the mission, the tester also provides the versatility to help achieve the mission even when the tester itself is not functioning properly by disconnecting the hard drive and the Interface Test Adaptor and plugging them into another tester.

This scenario is a vast improvement considering many of the legacy testers VDATS is replacing are the only testers in that configuration that exist.

"We will not suffer the downtime and have to put an aircraft on the ground because of an ancient tester," said Jeff White, flight director for the manufacturing flight in the 569th EMXS.

Presently Robins possesses eight digital analog testers and two radio frequency testers. Together that combination of the two types of testers in the VDATS system will test about 95 percent of the systems here at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Mr. Ventress said.

"We are stealing the brains off the old ones and putting them on the new ones," Mr. Miller said.

"Not only are we standardizing the hardware, we are standardizing the software," said Jamie Hulett, director of the 581st Software Maintenance Squadron. "The hardware is no good without the software."

The tester also allows a uniform software language to be used, the American National Standards Institute for standard "C" programming.

"Instead of using 50 different languages, we are going to have one language," said Bob Pennington, lead engineer with the 402nd Software Maintenance Group.

This makes it possible for newly hired software engineers to make significant contributions immediately because recent graduates are trained in this standard language.

This also solves the issue of having to find technicians who are able to operate legacy testers or only having one person who can operate a tester on staff, Mr. Miller said. Another benefit is the ability to train technicians on one tester, rather than numerous testers.

In fiscal 2008, the building of the testers will be turned over to the manufacturing side of the house. The group will build 10 more DA and eight more RF testers to be used here to continue to lean the testing process. In fiscal 2009 another 15 DA testers and five RF testers will be produced to help Robins continue to streamline the testing process by replacing legacy testers.