Commercial, Military

Product Focus: Test Equipment

By Barry Rosenberg | September 1, 2008
Send Feedback

In one of the largest aircraft test equipment procurement contracts in recent memory, the U.S. Navy was in the process of writing a request for proposals (RFP) to replace the roughly 600 Consolidated Automated Support System (CASS) test systems in its maintenance depots and intermediate shops.

First purchased in 1990 (with the last system acquired in 2003), the CASS units were designed with a technical lifespan of about 20 years. All were purchased from Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Fla. (formerly GE, then Martin Marietta). The components of the system include Teradyne’s digital test unit, Agilent Technologies’ RF tester and Northrop Grumman’s electro-optics module.

By 2015, the Naval Air Systems Command plans to begin replacing those 600 testers with 400 new units, according to Bill Ross, deputy program manager for NAVAIR’s Support Systems group (PMA260D), who said the reduction in numbers is due to the shrinkage of the Navy’s fleet of aircraft following the impending retirement of all F-14 fighters and S-3 Viking surface warfare/aerial refueler aircraft.

"By 2022 we hope to have all those systems out of our inventory," said Ross, who is the Navy and Marine Corps lead for air-related automatic test equipment (ATE). "We want to replace them with systems that have similar test capabilities because we now have 3,000 test program sets (TPS) that run on those 600 systems. Eventually, we’re going to need about 1,300 TPSs to move from mainframe CASS to what we’re calling eCASS."

According to a June statement from NAVAIR, eCASS builds on the $2 billion investment in the CASS program to include faster run times, a smaller footprint, scalability and lower acquisition and support costs.

"CASS has been an extremely successful program," said Capt. Mike Belcher, Aviation Support Equipment program manager (PMA 260). "CASS replaced 30 different legacy testers with one family of ATE and eliminated all of the logistics requirements associated with maintaining all of those different test benches. However, because most of the CASS components are commercial-off-the-shelf items, obsolescence is going to become a huge issue for us to overcome. With the newer test technologies, the time is right to modernize our ATE family of testers."

Ross said a typical aircraft carrier has 19 CASS stations onboard and by 2020, the Navy can reduce that to 15 eCASS stations. "eCASS will be a product of all of its predecessor testers. The test capability inserted in the previous testers will flow into eCASS and it is expected that as additional new weapon system test requirements emerge in the future, those too will flow into eCASS," Ross said.

"The CASS systems have avoided almost $3.8 billion in total ownership costs for the Navy by consolidating the functions of 30 different test systems into a single system, and eCASS will continue to contribute to this cost avoidance."

Ross is also assistant director of the Defense Department’s ATE directorate and, in parallel with the Navy acquisition, he is working on a framework of standards designed to reduce sustainment costs and improve interoperability of testers among all the military services.

Now being developed are standards for the following tester elements:

  • Adapter Functional and Parametric Information (AFP)

  • Built In Test Data (BTD)

  • Common Test Interface (CTI)

  • Computer to External Environment (CXE)

  • Data Networking (NET)

  • Diagnostic Data (DIAD)

  • Diagnostic Services (DIAS)

  • Digital Test Format (DTF)

  • Instrument Communication Manager (ICM)

  • Instrument Drivers (DRV)

  • Instrument Functional and Parametric Information (IFP)

  • Maintenance Test Data and Services (MTD)

  • Master Conformance Index (MCI)

  • Multimedia Formats (MMF)

  • Product Design Data (PDD)

  • Resource Adapter Interface (RAI)

  • Resource Management Services (RMS)

  • Run Time Services (RTS)

  • Switch Functional and Parametric Information (SFP)

  • Switching Matrix (SWM)

  • System Framework (FRM)

  • Test Program Documentation (TPD)

  • UUT Test Requirements (UTR)

  • Distributed Network environment (DNE)

  • UUT Device Interface (UDI)

Seven standards have been finalized so far and those, as well as a number of others nearing completion, will be part of the new RFP being developed for the replacement of the Navy CASS units, as well as future acquisitions by other services. Ross expects the RFP to be ready this fall.

For the Navy acquisition, "we expect to see systems that embrace the new technology we’ve been working, like synthetic instruments and common test systems," Ross said. "We expect to see systems that embrace the framework standards that we’re identifying, and also systems that are more open than we’ve had before so that we can swap out instruments. With CASS, every time we replace an instrument there is significant impact that requires regression testing.

"We also expect to see a smaller system and a faster system with quicker throughput so we can have one or two fewer on an aircraft carrier."

There has been a lot of interest among test vendors in the program, Ross said. An industry day was held at the Autotestcon conference in Baltimore last year, and there have been two requests for information (RFI) for statements of work. "It is an ATE acquisition program, but it is more than that," said Ross. "The bigger challenge is operating 1,300 legacy tests on this system, and using all-new, next-generation COTS systems that will play 1,300 TPSs the way the old system did."

Testing Trends

In addition to the eCASS development, the past year has seen several accelerating requirements that have driven other test equipment innovation, particularly in the RF area. One of those relates to a change in Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) technology, and will be another major, near-term procurement in the military world. The U.S. military and NATO countries are rushing to implement the new Mode 5 security protocol in all military radio transponders and related ground interrogator equipment.

The OEMs involved in developing and supplying the new protocol include Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Thales and Selex, a Finmeccanica company.

"The waveform will be embedded in every airborne transponder, every interrogator and in missiles like the Patriot and Stinger," said John Ardussi, director of business development for the avionics group of Aeroflex Test Solutions, Plainview, N.Y. "The schedule is for the immediate implementation of compliant hardware, and that requires test equipment that will be used by all the OEMs to qualify their hardware."

In response, Aeroflex introduced its IFF45-TS transponder tester to meet those testing needs. The tester operates under remote control from a computer or ATE system. "The waveform characteristic presents challenges because the transponder has a quite high power performance requirement," Ardussi said. "The technical implementation requires very high-speed FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays)."

Ardussi estimated American and NATO militaries will require 20,000 to 30,000 news transponders, with "many thousands of testers" to go along with those.

Civil Drivers

In civil aerospace markets, one of the most important trends driving new test equipment needs in the past year is the decision in North America and Europe to accelerate implementation of new aircraft transponder and navigation protocols.

"These protocols are part of a long-term industry move to increase ATN (Air Transport Network) efficiency," Ardussi said. "They include ADS-B, UAT, elementary and enhanced surveillance, and integrated GPS, in conformity with associated ARINC and RTCA standards.

"These tools will augment the ability of the aviation industry to adopt free flight and RNP navigation. For the time being, they will supplement, rather than replace, traditional ATCRBS [air traffic control radar beacon system], or radar beacon, navigation systems and landing aides."

Aeroflex has introduced several products in this area, including the IFR-6000 hand-held ramp tester, used by airlines and military customers to test Mode A/C/S transponder, DME, TCAS, ADS-B and Traffic Information Service (TIS) avionics systems. In April, Aeroflex released its Avionics Test Bench and Avionics Test Studio, a reconfigurable PXI-based test platform for avionics navigation and communications.

3M Aerospace, St. Paul, Minn., is working its own corner of the test equipment market, refining its capability to determine distance to fault on wires.

"People are moving forward on the technology curve to troubleshoot wiring faults," said Steve Falteisek, application development engineer for 3M Aerospace. "In the past, multi meters would identify that you had a short in a wire. Now, more sophisticated troubleshooting devices provide you the distance to the fault for opened, short and high-resistance faults. You increase your efficiency by a quantum leap because you don’t have to disassemble the aircraft to find the fault."

3M’s 900AST (Advanced System Test) hand-held device is designed to locate faults in the wiring of various aircraft types, including military, commercial and business. First introduced several years ago, its genesis came as a modification to a wire tester developed for telecommunications equipment. It could pinpoint a fault in an 8,000-foot wire. With some tweaks it was modified for aerospace, where a long wire, such as in a Boeing 747, is only 200 feet long. "We modified the tester to measure in inches and to increase its accuracy," said Falteisek, a former F-16 electronics technician who was part of the team that developed the 900AST. "In aerospace you want to be able to measure distances in very small increments because the break in the wire could be right at the connector."

OEM test engineers are driven by the changing requirements of new aircraft systems and the need to keep up with technical innovation in a cost-conscious environment. The launch of Boeing’s 787, the Airbus A380 and the coming A350, as well as new business aircraft, are among the main drivers. The increasing implementation and diversity of integrated avionics is having a parallel impact on test complexity. This shows up not only in the factory test or ATE world, but also in the requirements for flightline testers.

Things will change even more as airframers start utilizing electric systems in place of hydraulic and pneumatic systems. The A380, for example, employs a combined electric/hydraulic back-up actuator for its four aileron surfaces and four elevator surfaces. Even though it is a back up, it is the first electric system ever used for primary flight control on a civil aircraft. Such electric systems require their own, unique test equipment.

"A sea change is going on, though it’s a slow rolling ocean," Ardussi said in reference to the introduction of electric systems on commercial airplanes.

In another trend, many OEMs are continuing to explore outsourcing strategies, including offshore partnerships, because of the volume of new development and severe market-driven cost pressures. This is also impacting test strategy and the selection of test equipment. Test equipment suppliers need to have a global view and offer new products, technical service, and support approaches to match these new customer needs.

"It doesn’t make sense to offshore the development of test equipment," said Ardussi. "The end result for a company like ours is that we need to have a global footprint, with branches in multiple countries and service and support around the world."

Finally, there is increased use of FPGAs and digital signal processor technology to supplement traditional microprocessors in handling high-speed, complicated test protocols. These highly capable and flexible components are giving rise to the emerging development of synthetic instruments, which use very high-speed circuits that can be reprogrammed on the fly to emulate multiple dedicated instruments.

Avionics Magazine’s Product Focus is a monthly feature that examines some of the latest product offerings in different market segments of the avionics industry. It does not represent a comprehensive survey of all companies and products in these markets.

Market Moves

Following are some recent developments announced by test equipment providers.

  • Honeywell in June completed field evaluation testing of its Zing Remote Diagnostics Service for TFE731 aircraft engines.

    The system accumulated more than 1,500 flight hours on Hawker aircraft and performed more than 275 downloads of engine data at U.S. and international airports. The Zing system downloads engine data, then transmits it wirelessly to a website and e-mail that alerts maintainers of the TFE731 engines via remote access.

  • In April, James F. Mulato was named president of the EADS North America Test and Services division headquartered in Irvine, Calif.

    Mulato is responsible for developing and implementing strategies to expand the company’s presence in the semiconductor test and defense markets, as well as broadening the commercial applications for its automatic test equipment (ATE) test and measurement instruments. Mulato previously was EADS North America Test and Services’ executive vice president.

    In January, EADS North America Test & Services was awarded a multi-year Performance-based Logistics contract valued at $4.1 million for the support of U.S. Navy aircraft engine test systems deployed worldwide.

    The contract is for material support, global repair services and obsolescence management of the test systems, which are used to test jet and turboshaft engines on Navy fighter aircraft and helicopters. The contract covers the Navy’s Jet Engine Test Instrumentation and Shaft Engine Test Instrumentation systems.

  • Geotest-Marvin Test Systems, Irvine, Calif., signed an agreement in April with AIM-USA to be a reseller of AIM-USA’s line of cPCI/PXI avionics testers.

    "Geotest’s experience developing systems for the mil-aero market complements our line of avionics interfaces for the commercial and military markets. We look forward to working with Geotest as a partner in the development and deployment of avionics test solutions for both military and commercial customers," said Ken Bisson, AIM-USA vice president.

  • AIM GmbH, based in Freiburg, Germany, in July introduced its AVX3910-x VMEbus card for avionics test systems.

    The AVX3910-x provides Protocol Testing and Simulation of STANAG3910 Low Speed and High Speed data bus controllers, multiple remote terminals and chronological monitoring at full bus loads. It also supports EFAbus Direct Digital Links (DDL) and Fibre Optic DDL acquisition.

  • GE Sensing and Inspection Technologies in July received a $3.6 million order from the U.K. Ministry of Defense for 110 additional Air Test Data Test Sets (ADTS) to be used in military aircraft maintenance and flight checking in the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army Air Corps.

    An ADTS405 test set is used for the precision calibration/verification of aircraft pitot-statics, enabling vital flight instrumentation such as altimeters, airspeed indicators, rate of climb indicators, mach meters and air data computers to be accurately tested. The system is controlled by a remote hand terminal, so an operator can control the ADTS either outside the aircraft or in the cockpit. The test set can be configured to suit a wide range limits for both fixed or rotary wing aircraft, GE said.

  • Ideal Aerosmith, East Grand Forks, Minn., in November was awarded a contract from Rockwell Collins to provide test equipment services and support. Under terms of the contract, Ideal will build and integrate Rockwell’s commercial test systems and related equipment, and will provide engineering support for current and future programs.


3M Aerospace
Advanced Technical Group
Aero Express
Aerospace Instrument Support
Aerosystems International
A.T.E. Solutions
Avionics Specialist
Avtron Manufacturing
BAE Systems Electronics & Integrated Solutions
Ballantine Labs
Bird Electronic Corp.
BMC Communications Corp.
DAC International
Dayton T. Brown
C & H Technologies
Cytec Corp.
Dallas Avionics
DIT-MCO International Corp.
DME Corp.
EADS North America Defense Test and Services
GE Sensing & Inspection Technologies
Georator Corp.
Geotest-Marvin Test Systems
Ideal Aerosmith
Instrumentation Engineering
ITT Corp.
KineticSystems Co.
DMA-Aero/D. Marchiori
MAX Technologies
National Instruments Corp.
NavCom Defense Electronics
NH Research, Inc.
North Atlantic Industries
Northrop Grumman Information and Services
Pickering Interfaces
Pulse Instruments
RSL Electronics Ltd.
Schaffner EMC
Sekas GmbH
Tech-Aid Products
TechSAT GmbH
Tektronix UK Ltd.
Thermotron Industries
Tracewell Systems
TRICOR Systems
Ultra Electronics
VXI Technology
Westar Display Technologies
Westest Engineering Corp
Xantrex Technology

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox