Trends in flight-line test gear include smaller equipment, software-defined tasks, and generic test sets

BY John Keller

Today’s flight-line test equipment for commercial and military aircraft is becoming smaller, lighter, and more powerful to accomplish increasing amounts of testing at the aircraft, rather than at the depot, as well as increasing its use of software-defined functionality to achieve a growing number of test jobs with one piece of equipment.

Flight-line test equipment, which tests for potential aircraft system faults such as data bus errors, misaligned sensors, and data corruption, also sees increasing use of modular commercial off-the-shelf equipment, which ultimately could help test personnel share equipment, ease personnel training requirements, and enable test experts to move quickly to different aircraft without much retraining.

“Trends today, from classical flight-line test, involve the equipment getting smaller and technologically much more centered on microelectronics,” says Stephen Mensh, director of advanced test and electronic warfare at the AAI Corp. Test and Training segment in Hunt Valley, Md.

Smaller, lighter, more powerful

“The packaging is getting smaller, and we get more power and capa- bility from these flight line test sets,” Mensh says. “The equipment is more versatile and adaptable to a wide variety of applications.”

It is not out of the ordinary today to see flight-line test equipment small enough to fit in a backpack and operated by one or two people, rather than large enough to fit on several carts of rack-and-stack equipment with several different operators. “It is a one-man carry kind of equipment today,” explains Kevin Hurley, director of business development at Astronics/DME Corp in Orlando, Fla.

Among the enabling technologies for today’s small, powerful flight-line test equipment are open-architectures in which test technicians can plug additional circuit cards into backplanes to add capability or functionality. Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) also enable test technicians to make changes to their test equipment on the fly.

“Computing power is advancing to get us more capability in a smaller package,” says Paul Vavra, business development manager for flight-line test solutions in the electronic combat solutions business unit of BAE Systems Electronic Solutions in Nashua, N.H.

The use of COTS components in flight-line test equipment not only enhances capability and reduces size and weight, but also enables test equipment managers to attack costs. Test equipment specialists at Data Device Corp. (DDC) in Bohemia, N.Y., are making broad use of USB data ports on their test equipment to enable test technicians to use laptop computers to test aircraft databuses, rather than expensive and dedicated test equipment.

“The USB port is on everything, and the USB protocol leverages the consumer marketplace and reduces costs of our manufacturing, which [provides savings that] we can pass along to our customers,” says George Los, product manager at DDC. “Our products for the test market also are FPGA-based, which involves a software load to add capability or functionality. It allows us to respond to the market quickly and gives us flexibility to develop new features and capability purely in FPGA.”

Software-defined functionality

Today’s flight-line test equipment is making broad use of test functionality defined in software, rather than in hardware. At a generic level, it is similar to trends in advanced software-defined radio in which users program desired functions in software that runs on a generic computing architecture.

“Depending on the application, some of the flight-line test equipment is becoming more software-defined,” says AAI’s Mensh. More functions defined in software also make the test equipment more flexible and reconfigurable. “We are only limited by an up- and down-converter on the kinds of signals we can handle,” says Astronics/DME’s Hurley.

Reconfigurable flight-line test equipment also means that more test routines can run on the same equipment, cutting down the need for large numbers of testers to handle different tasks. “We can configure waveforms electronically in software, and we don’t need new testers,” says BAE Systems’ Vavra.

Generic test equipment

“What we really see in the defense marketplace is a need for commonality and compatibility in one piece of equipment,” Vavra says. “We provide the Stores System Tester on the F-16 [jet fighter] that is designed to replace two pieces of equipment, and we want to go further.”

BAE Systems provides bore-sighting test equipment for the F-16, and plans to adapt that equipment also to handle similar testing on the F-15 jet fighter-bomber.

“We will have one piece of equipment for the F-16 and F-15, and with only different cables for each aircraft,” Vavra says. He predicts this trend to continue as the military services start to take over maintenance of unmanned aerial vehicles from the contractor personnel who do those tasks today.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

PMC-E2001 Audio/Acoustic Waveform Generating PMC Card

PMC-E2001 Delta-sigma PMC features 16-bit resolution with 8 Analog Outputs and 4 Analog Inputs wi...

VPX3-453 3U VPX Virtex-6/8640D Digital Signal Processor

The Curtiss-Wright VPX3-453 is a high performance 3U VPX DSP and FPGA processor card that combine...

CHAMP-FX4 6U OpenVPX Virtex-7 FPGA Processor Card

The CHAMP-FX4 is the flagship 6U product in Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions’ family of user-prog...

General Micro "Horizon" C299

The C299 Horizon is a third generation, 6U cPCI SBC module based on GMS’ upgradable CPU technolog...

RR2P Removable Canister RAID System

Transportable data storage for mobile field use aboard planes, ships and ground transport. 2U, du...

General Micro "Atom" XPC40X Rugged, Ultra-Small, Ultra-Low-Power Intel Atom™ CPU SBC

The XPC40X Atom is a rugged, low cost, ultra-low power, lightweight, Atom™ based computer system....

General Micro's VS295 Eclipse

The VS295 Eclipse is fifth generation, VME SBC module based on GMS, upgradable CPU technology. It...

DSP280 - Rugged Dual Socket 2nd Gen Intel Quad Core i7 Multiprocessor

The DSP280 is a rugged, 6U OpenVPX dual socket Intel 2nd generation Quad Core i7 multiprocessor d...

ADEPT3000 Automatic Video Tracker

GE Intelligent Platforms ADEPT3000 is a cost-effective SWaP optimized automatic video tracking so...

6U OpenVPX HPEC Starter System

GE Intellligent Platforms new HPEC Application Ready Platforms (HARP) products respond to governm...

Related Companies

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...

Innovative Integration

  Since 1988, Innovative Integration has grown to become one of the world's leading suppliers of DSP and data ac...

General Micro Systems Inc

Since 1979, General Micro Systems has been providing the most diverse line of single-board computers in the industry....

Winchester Systems Inc

At its founding in 1981, Winchester Systems introduced its first 5 MB disk system for Intel development system users....

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc (X-ES)

 Extreme Engineering Solutions, Inc. (X-ES) is a leader in the design, manufacture, and support of standard and ...


Provides a lightweight, compact aluminum connector. M-series connector is focused on the design that requires a MIL-3...

GE Intelligent Platforms

Provides embedded computing solutions. Products include single-board computers, networking products, avionics interfa...

Omnetics Connector Corp

Omnetics Connector Company is a privately held, world class connector design and manufacturing company with over 25 ...

Dawn VME Products

Dawn provides customers an in-depth and broad range of system and product knowledge and expertise coupled with the la...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases

One Component, Snap Cure Epoxy Features High Strength Properties

Suitable for a variety of applications in the electronic, aerospace and OEM industries, Master Bond EP3SP5F...

One Part Epoxy Resists up to 500°F and Meets NASA Low Outgassing Specifications

Master Bond Supreme 12AOHT-LO is a one component epoxy for a variety of bonding and sealing applications in...

Low Viscosity, One Part Cyanoacrylate Is Non-Toxic and Meets ISO 10993-5 Specifications

Master Bond MB250NT is widely used for a variety of applications ranging from repair to high speed producti...

Thermally Conductive, Two Component Epoxy Passes USP Class VI Tests and ISO 10993-5 Specifications

With biocompatibility and cytotoxicity certifications, Master Bond EP21AOLV-2Med is often selected for bond...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Defense Solutions division applauds Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) o...

Curtiss-Wright’s New Rugged Mobile IP Router Subsystem Features an Integrated Cisco® 5915 ESR Router

Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division, a Cisco® Systems Solution T...

VICTORY Shared Processing, Fire Control Computer, and Switch for Ground Vehicles Introduced by Curtiss-Wright

Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has introduced a new fully i...

GE Announces First Sub-Credit Card-Sized Multi-Function High Definition (HD) Video Tracker

HUNTSVILLE, AL.— OCTOBER 13, 2014—GE’s Intelligent Platforms business today announced at AUSA (October 13-...


Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Tight Pentagon budgets mean military systems must stay in the field for longer than ever before. This doesn't mean obsolete technology, however. Today's military electronics are being upgraded constantly, an...
Sponsored by:

Design Strategy Considerations for DO-178C Certified Multi-core Systems

Join Wind River to learn how system architecture and design choices can minimize your DO-178C certification challenges.

Sponsored by:

Flying, Sailing or Driving - The Rugged, Embedded Intel-based Server that goes where you need it!Flying Sailing or Driving

Leveraging the power of server-class processors is no longer relegated to the confines of data centers. Through several innovations, Mercury Systems has ruggedized Intel’s server-class chips for deployment. ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

April 2015
Volume 26, Issue 4

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles