"Gee whiz" technology

"Gee Whiz" Technology Part II By Fred Workley October 1998 Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. and director of Aircraft Appraisals at AvSOLUTIONS, both in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical...


After field technicians establish the link with a service center, they send video of the faulty equipment and identify the installed circuit cards. The specialists at the service center use schematics to tell the field technicians how to troubleshoot the card. Also, the field technicians use probes, such as voltage meters, to send data that tells the service center technicians where to make adjustments to restore the system to the correct specifications. These systems are available for real-time repair of aircraft systems, avionics, and electronics. The objective is to "reduce the number of emergency repair teams deployed to field locations" and "have a means to make repairs in hours instead of days."

We need intelligent, ultra-low power displays backed by software programs that show the technicians how the systems under review really operate. Some of the new miniature flat panels or micro-displays use liquid crystal displays, with some controlled by the use of plasma gas cells instead of silicon transistors. There continue to be rapid improvements in direct-view displays for commercially available,"ruggedized" laptops that are lightweight, thin, and have low power consumption. The systems need to support either all-digital controls or remote analog controls, and they must store as many as sixteen display formats.

The real advances in the last three years have been in the use of active-matrix liquid crystal display (AMLCD) technology for helmet-mounted displays. These miniature flat panels are smaller than an inch on diagonal. These can be used to display schematics and other computer based data. The next step is to build the display into your safety glasses with the micro-display image source in the glass frame and the optical emitter embedded in the lenses. Eventually, low powered red, green, and blue lasers will send a pattern through the maintenance technician's eye pupil with the image focused on the retina. The effect is like viewing high-quality video at arm's length.

By now you are saying, "NOT ME." There's more. There is already 3D (three-dimensional) software available that can help you visualize the part and all its connections before you remove it. Real-time systems are being designed with reflective memory. This works by duplicating (reflecting) the computer data from the memory board of one computer to the memory board of a parallel memory board in another system. A synchronization primitive ensures that the two boards remain in sync. This is communicated over some type of interconnect. It is possible that this interconnect could be fiber optics. Fly by light you say? Aircraft maintenance technicians are going to have to maintain on-aircraft systems receiving ground based telemetry that will be fed to the aircraft controls in a real-time environment.

Let me give you some examples that you may soon see on the hangar floor.

One is a smart tire. The tires will have MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) with embedded sensors and actuators that will interface directly with microprocessor-based information processing systems that are designed to improve maintenance and cut costs. The MEMS monitor pressure, temperature, and tire wear. They provide a unique code to identify the information from that specific tire. The idea is that knowing this information will permit technicians to improve their routine maintenance procedures. The same technology can install a small transponder in the tire which when interrogated, can provide the same information along with identification. The software for this system was developed for the remote long distance barcode reading systems.

Other uses for computers in maintenance are for processing information from infrared temperature sensors for example. There are new aircraft applications that require precision optics and sensing of high temperatures of 0 to 570 degrees F. The powered electronics must be very noise resistant over long distances so that data is not distorted.

How about processing information from electronic accelerometers used for navigation when the aircraft is out of range of the Global Positioning System (GPS)? This replaces heavy electromechanical systems employing cantilever beam and pendulum inertial systems. The variable capacitance accelerometer is on an array of three, micromachined single-crystal silicon 2-inch wafers. The whole sensor can weigh between 3.6 to 7 grams. They can stand shock loads up to 10,000Gs and can measure as little as +/- 2 G, or up to 100 G. The temperature range is 165 to 250 degrees F.

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