Commercial, Military

Product Focus: Test Equipment

By By Barry Rosenberg | September 1, 2010
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About four months into its most important modernization program for the testing of aircraft avionics, automatic test equipment (ATE) engineers at the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) are excited about how the electronic Consolidated Automated Support System (eCASS) program will bring “netcentricity” to avionics testing for the first time. One of the major benefits of that will be to significantly increase the speed at which units go through troubleshooting and repair.

“We’ll be able to do higher quality diagnostics, and do it faster with higher throughput,” said Bill Ross, deputy program manager for automatic test systems at NAVAIR and assistant director of the Department of Defense’s ATE directorate. “As an example of netcentricity improvements, we’ve demonstrated and will implement it on our future weapons systems like eCASS the ability to capture bit data from the airplane.

“Right now that bit data gets lost,” Ross said. “Instead, you want to carry it right into the shops so that the ATE operator can use that bit data to start his test program for testing the box at a spot where he knows it failed.”

The bit data is lost because it was never recorded, and, as such, there is no way to transfer it. That will change with eCASS. The time savings possible can be illustrated by the example of testing the Universal Exciter Upgrade (UEU) on EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft. The UEU is a signal generator that works with the aircraft’s transmitter pods.

The Test Program Set (TPS) for the UEU typically takes 8 to 10 hours to run, and it needs to be run twice once to troubleshoot the problem and a second time to verify the fix. Having access to the bit data will better pinpoint where the problem lies, so the TPS can conceivably start at the point of the problem rather than having to start from the beginning. Hours could potentially be saved on that one repair alone.

Under the eCASS program, the Navy will replace approximately 600 ship- and land-based CASS systems with about 340 new eCASS units. Concurrently, 1,100 Test Program Sets out of the approximately 3,000 TPSs that presently run on mainframe CASS will transfer to eCASS.

The original CASS testers were procured over a 13-year period from Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support in Orlando (formerly GE, then Martin Marietta). Lockheed Martin STS also will provide the new eCASS testers under a contract it won earlier this year, potentially worth $105 million. The major subcontractor for eCASS is Textron Systems AAI Corp., of Hunt Valley, Md., which will design and build the radio frequency components, also called mission equipment kits, for the next-generation ATE serving the Navy’s aircraft fleet.

Another benefit of bringing netcentricity to automatic test equipment is the ability to conduct data mining on previously failed units. That’s presently impossible with existing CASS systems.

“Say you’re doing a box like the UEU and you can’t get down to the exact part that is bad through the diagnostics,” explained Ross. “You get ambiguity groups where you might get it down to two, three or even four cards, which means you often have to pull all four cards out and put four new ones in.

“Through data mining and the collection of some of this history, we’ll be able to go back and suggest to the technician, for example, that card A1 fails 60 percent of the time, so that’s the one most likely to be bad,” Ross said. “These are the kinds of netcentric capabilities we’re going to move ATE to in the future.”

eCASS Roadmap

With the eCASS contract award to Lockheed Martin in March, the clock started on a five-year development program. The contractors will first produce 14 engineering development models, followed in the 2013-2014 timeframe by 36 Low-Rate Initial Production units.

Those LRIP stations will be used to conduct regression testing to confirm that the 1,100 legacy CASS test programs scheduled to transition to eCASS will, indeed, play on the new eCASS hardware. Ross considers that compatibility the key engineering challenge associated with the program.

“You’ve got cable lengths that will affect timing and a lot of technical issues with the system,” he said. “So, as part of this program, we’ve required Lockheed Martin to characterize the CASS system in intimate detail so that they can then duplicate that characterization in the new eCASS system. That is the big challenge: duplicate the CASS capability so that the 1,100 weapon system components can be easily tested.”

That was also one of the key requirements of the Navy’s other major ATE program, Reconfigurable Transportable CASS (RTCASS). Boeing, with partners Systems & Electronics Inc., and Teradyne, won the RTCASS contract in 2003, and had delivered about half of the 160 systems under contract. (In late July, Boeing said it would begin delivering a high-power version of RTCASS developed to test powerful radar systems. Boeing will produce 20 RTCASS-HP systems.)

Most systems are going to the Marine Corps for testing of aircraft such as the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor. Another dozen or so RTCASS systems were ordered by the Air Force special operations, and some Foreign Military Sales are expected, as well. None of the RTCASS units received to this point, however, have actually been transferred to the field, particularly in Afghanistan where the Marines are flying the Osprey.

“The problem there is the need to transport the test programs from the mainframe CASS to the RTCASS,” said Ross. “The hold-up is getting all that regression testing done to verify that the CASS TPSs do play on RTCASS. Even though we’ve fielded half the stations already, they’re not fully functional. We have CASS there in parallel with the RTCASS.

“We’ll eventually pull all the CASS systems out of the Marine Corps, but right now we’re only about 66 percent TPS transportable regression tested. By next spring, we’ll be 100 percent. And then we’ll be ready to deploy to Afghanistan.”

One reason that Marines want RTCASS in the field as quickly as possible is because of its significantly reduced footprint compared to CASS. It takes a double-wide van to transport each of the mainframe CASS systems, while RTCASS fits in a single van, reducing half the logistics footprint for each unit.

Industry Trends

Many of the capabilities of eCASS are also seen in test equipment trends that have developed over the last several years. These include customer demand for higher density test instrumentation that puts more capability on a single instrument; growth in common-core test systems that have most of the common requirements for testing avionics systems and take advantage of modularity to easily add test functions they don’t have; and replacement of legacy test systems.

“I think we’re seeing those trends continue with even more clarity today,” said Walter Vahey, vice president and general manager for functional test at Teradyne, based in North Reading, Mass.

“Embedded in those three trends are two other elements overlaid on top of them: a drive for greater flexibility in the instrument, and an increase in speed to deploy a particular test need.”

In the area of greater flexibility, a program like eCASS, for example, will likely be deployed for a longer period of time than the previous generation of equipment. That means it will need to be able to test a broader range of weapon systems, resulting in requirements for broader analog specifications, broader voltage ranges, broader timing specifications.

“The breadth of capability in the tester will be greater because of the expectation that the life of the tester will be longer,” said Vahey. “On the flexibility side that will require instrumentation with broader parameters.

“Let’s break it down,” Vahey said. “Specs will have to be broader. The individual instruments will need to be more programmable and provide more flexibility for the instruments as they’re in the field. The TPS developer will need to get access to more capability of the instrument and also be able to change it live in the field. Onboard programmable FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) will be important, for example.”

Such capabilities are expected to eventually lead to greater industry sales for a market that is somewhat stagnant at the moment. There have not been any major industry mandates on the order of TCAS Version 7 from several years ago (which included RVSM), and new capabilities such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) are not driving development of new test equipment because existing equipment is already out there.

“Some of the people we do business with were holding the status quo, doing a lot of maintenance on their equipment and maybe not putting their money into the capital expenditures,” said Jeanne Rau, president of Aero Express, of Lee’s Summit, Mo., which specializes in selling and leasing test equipment to the avionics industry. “But what we’ve seen a lot from manufacturers is that they’re redesigning test equipment and putting multi-functions in one box. Teradyne is doing it, Tel-Instrument is doing it and Aeroflex is doing it.

“A multi-functional tester is good for a larger shop that is adding a capability or a new realm,” Rau said. “For them, they are very functional because they cut down on the number of pieces that have to be calibrated, for example.”

Avionics Magazine’s Product Focus is a monthly feature that examines some of the latest trends 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.

➤ GE Sensing and Inspection Technologies in July introduced the ADTS 206, a rugged, three-channel air data test set to be used on Smart Probe-equipped aircraft. It can also facilitate testing of traditional two-channel pitot static systems.

The tester provides special capability specific to the testing of three-channel Smart Probes. Automation of standard three channel tests is achieved through user-defined scripts that are stored in the unit’s touchscreen hand terminal. Once stored, the test scripts are simply recalled and require just one key press to move to the next test, according to GE. The ADTS 206 can also be used in manual mode for non-routine or diagnostic testing.

➤ DMA-Aero, of Danbury, Conn., in June released MPS40C Flight Line Air Data Test Instrument, which can control four pressures separately and independently — static, pitot and dual angle of attack. The flightline tester is ideal for aircraft that incorporate pneumatic AOA measurement through Smart probes. The MPS40C is RVSM compliant with a recommended calibration cycle of one year. Additional features include a 5,000-hour warranty on the internal pump and encoding altimeter option.

➤ Derco Aerospace, based in Milwaukee, in June announced a partnership with Testek, of Wixom, Mich., to jointly pursue specialized aircraft test equipment opportunities worldwide. The companies said the agreement is designed to support customers’ requirements for complete in-house repair and testing capabilities.

Derco will offer expanded infrastructure development systems that include fixtures and tooling, training, engineering, program management, and OEM piece parts for component overhauls supported by Testek’s test equipment, according to the companies.

➤ AIM GmbH, based in Freiburg, Germany, introduced the AMC825-4 ARINC 825 (CAN bus) Test & Simulation Module for PMC. It has four electrically isolated CAN bus nodes operating concurrently at CAN bus high-speed bit rate of up to 1Mbit/s. The AMC825-4 PCI Mezzanine Card (PMC) can work either with full functionality as an active CAN node for testing and simulating or in “listen only” mode for monitoring and recording purposes.

Embedded versions with extended temperature, conduction cooling, rear I/O and conformal coating are available, the company said.

➤ Aeroflex, based in Wichita, Kan., in March introduced the ALT-8000, described as the world’s first RF-based portable radio altimeter flightline test set. The ALT-8000 is a universal test set for 4.3 GHz FMCW (frequency modulated continuous carrier wave) radio altimeters and pulse radio altimeters with a large 12-inch color touchscreen interface.

Aeroflex also introduced the GPSG-1000 portable positional simulator for GPS and Galileo receivers. The lightweight tester provides a modern simulator for L1, C/A code and L1C, L2C, L5 GPS modernization signals, as well as new Galileo E1, E5, E6 services. It can be configured with single channel, 6-channel or 12-channel simulation.

➤ Geotest-Marvin Test Systems, of Irvine, Calif., and U.K.-based Pickering Interfaces in March formed a strategic alliance aimed at providing customers a broader range of test equipment choices. An initial aspect of this program has been the creation of a joint Web site — — designed to educate automated test equipment users about the test products offered by both companies.

The alliance combines Geotest’s expertise in Digital test, system integration and ATE software with Pickering’s catalog of PXI Switching and Signal Conditioning products. In addition to the Web site, Geotest and Pickering share common sales channels in much of the United States, Asia and Europe. Educational programs will also be available on the Web and via regional seminars.

➤ EADS North America Test and Services in January acquired Trig-Tek, of Garden Grove, Calif., a supplier of precision, dynamic and measurement instruments for the U.S. aerospace and defense markets. “The acquisition of Trig-Tek is consistent with our strategy to provide our customers with the most advanced automatic test solutions. It also supports EADS North America’s goal to grow our business in the U.S. and to enhance our global test and services offering,” EADS North America stated.


3M Aerospace
Advanced Technical Group
Aero Express
Aerospace Instrument Support
Aerosystems International
Astronics Corp.
A.T.E. Solutions
Avionics Specialist
Avtron Manufacturing
BAE Systems
Ballantine Labs
Bird Technologies Group
DAC International
Dayton T. Brown
C & H Technologies
Dallas Avionics
DIT-MCO International Corp.
DMA-Aero/D. Marchiori
EADS North America Defense Test and Services
GE Sensing & Inspection
Georator Corp.
Geotest-Marvin Test Systems
Ideal Aerosmith
ITT Corp.
MAX Technologies
National Instruments Corp.
NavCom Defense Electronics
NH Research, Inc.
North Atlantic Industries
Northrop Grumman
Pickering Interfaces
RSL Electronics Ltd.
Sekas GmbH
Tech-Aid Products
TechSAT GmbH
Tektronix UK Ltd.
Tel-Instrument Electronics
Thermotron Industries
Tracewell Systems
TRICOR Systems
Ultra Electronics
VTI Instruments

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