VDATS makes avionics equipment testers universal Published April 13, 2007 By Holly Birchfield 78 ABW/PA Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- Robins is making avionics equipment testers universal to all aircraft components to keep the mission flowing. On March 30, the 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group and the 402nd Software Maintenance Group delivered the first three of 10 Versatile Depot Automatic Test Stations to avionics shops here. The test stations will enable technicians to test multiple avionics components using a common configuration that spans all workloads. The new testers, which will replace former testers with an average age of 24 years, are now ready to be used by the 402nd SMXG to develop test programs and continue with in-depth self-tests and software development. Dempsey Ventress, director of the Support Engineer Element of the 402nd EMXG, said the delivery is a milestone in the multi-million dollar project that will deliver 40 testers by fiscal 2009. "We began planning for a common tester in early 2000, and we developed the Common Core Tester concept, which basically says we've got a common core set of instruments in a tester and we started out with just a digital analogue tester for getting RF (radio frequency) and radar, which is a big portion of what we repair here at the avionics depot." Shortly after, Air Force Materiel Command put out a policy on transformation projects at Air Force depots. The idea was to create a concept that improves the way business is currently done, Mr. Ventress said. The new concept tests avionics units like black boxes and circuit cards. Walter Blount, Automatic Test Equipment engineer and project lead for VDATS in the 402nd EMXG, said Robins is building a radio frequency auxiliary bay that tests radars, electronic warfare systems and anything that needs radio frequency. "We're building two different testers, the digital analogue version and a radio frequency version." he said. "It's (the RF tester) geared toward testing electronic warfare stuff like black boxes that go on some of our aircraft." The RF bay plugs into the basic tester and is usable with any digital analogue tester, Mr. Blount said. Bob Pennington, 402nd Software Maintenance Squadron, lead engineer, said while his squadron's people hadn't had previous experience with the concept, they are using their combined engineering experience of more than 20 years to support the mission. "We're developing the self-test software, the calibration software, tech orders, the drawings, basically all of the support documentation and software that goes with the tester," he said. "The initial design was done by a combination of the 402nd EMXG folks and 402nd SMXG folks." The VDATS Program Office, located within the 742nd Combat Sustainment Group, provided acquisition support for all instrumentation for the project. Mr. Ventress said with a basic core analogue tester, Robins estimates it could test about 80 percent of what is tested in the depot with just one two-bay configuration and fund it through the normal procurement process. The Common Core Tester concept was briefed to Nelson Gibbs, former U.S. Air Force official, in August 2002, and the project was submitted as a Transformation Project in 2003. Mr. Ventress said AFMC liked the transformation project so much it promised $52 million to implement the Common Core Test concept. All work on the project is being done in-house, which will save the Air Force thousands of dollars. Robins will save even more money in training costs, since employees will have to be trained on only one tester. Mr. Ventress said Robins plans to have eight digital analog testers and two radio frequency testers delivered this year. Through fiscal 2009, 31 digital analog testers and 11 radio frequency bays are expected to be completed.