Boeing software saves money for avionics upgrades

Nov. 1, 2000
Boeing engineers claim they have designed a new software program that helps them upgrade avionics without altering old, or "legacy," software code.

By John McHale

ST. LOUIS — Boeing engineers claim they have designed a new software program that helps them upgrade avionics without altering old, or "legacy," software code.

The new technology, developed under the U.S. Air Force's Incremental Upgrade of Legacy Systems program (IULS), consists of a software program that "wraps" around old and new avionics software and enables both to operate side-by-side in an upgraded system, Boeing officials say.

"Because this approach allows operational flight programs to leverage proven software while incrementally introducing lower-cost commercial software and hardware, it will significantly reduce the cycle time and cost of upgrading avionics systems," claims David Corman, head of the IULS project in the Boeing Phantom Works in St. Louis.

Boeing experts recently demonstrated the new wrapper technique in an F-15E fighter-bomber equipped with an advanced display core processor based on commercial hardware, new avionics software developed using a commercial programming language, and the unmodified old software written in the Ada programming language. Engineers generated the upgraded flight software for the F-15E in C++.

The Overload Warning System (OWS) was the old software function wrapped and combined with the updated flight software for the flight test, Boeing officials explain. By flying a series of maneuvers that would cause the OWS to trigger, the test pilot verified that the OWS functioned properly, just as it would in the old F-15E operational flight program.

In an earlier laboratory demonstration, the new technique also helped rehost the Communications Control Unit software of the C-17 cargo jet from the old military standard processor to a commercial processor without modifying a single line of code, Boeing officials claim. The old C-17 CCU software was written in the JOVIAL language, prevalent in military avionics systems in the 1970s and 1980s.

Both demonstrations employed commercial PowerPC/VME upgraded processors to replace old MIL-STD-1750A processors.

Boeing engineers say they believe the successful tests demonstrate the software will enable them to "gradually evolve legacy avionics systems toward desired re-engineered end states, thus deferring conversion costs and risks," Corman says. "Now we're ready to apply it to a variety of upgrade programs."

Air Force officials are considering the wrapper technology and tool set for the F-15 and C-17 programs. The technique also has potential application to a variety of other aircraft, Boeing officials say.

The IULS program was awarded in 1996 to the Boeing Phantom Works and its partners, Honeywell and General Dynamics, and is managed by the Embedded Information Systems Engineering Branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate.

Under an avionics affordability initiative called "Bold Stroke", Phantom Works has been developing commercially based, open systems avionics architectures since 1995, Boeing officials say.

"With the automated approach of the IULS, we should be able to save even more time and cost in upgrading legacy avionics systems, making this an even greater value to our customers," Corman claims.

For more information on the wrapper software, contact Boeing on the World Wide Web at

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