As a safety feature in commercial aircraft, proximity sensors monitor the status of mechanical elements such as forward wing flaps, landing gear, and access doors. But when the sensors give false error readings, the need to find the problem can keep an aircraft grounded for hours, annoying travelers and cutting airline revenue.
Now, aviation consulting firm R.H. Caldwell & Associates uses a PXI-based aircraft sensor test system that speeds problem solving and supports preventative maintenance. I spoke with project consultant Roger Caldwell to learn more about the system.
This new system automates the testing, provides a graphical indication of a failed sensor's location, and gathers data for long-term, fleet-wide performance analysis and predictive failure models. In essence, the entire aircraft is viewed as a flying circuit board, and multiple onboard electrical networks with passive and active components may be ATE test subjects.
Our job was to define the aircraft interface, specify how the system would operate, and generate maintenance manuals with related aircraft technician training. Geotest configured the chassis and created the software, while the Seattle-based engineering firm Aero Northwest helped design and fabricate the aircraft interfaces.
PXI instrument cards offer capabilities that we want to tap in new applications. For instance, aircraft maintenance has a need for updated time-domain reflectometry testing to identify the location of failures in cabling without crawling all through the airframe. In fact, any maintenance procedure that has an electrical interface with the aircraft is a candidate for a PXI test system. The only real concern has been mechanical. The equipment operates in a heavy aircraft maintenance environment and must be mechanically secure and protected from the environment.