Automated Test Set Makes Dramatic Cuts in Wiring Maintenance Time

(Originally published at www.navair.navy.mil, by NAWCAD Public Affairs.)

The Navy and Air Force are improving their maintenance capabilities with the addition of automated wiring diagnostics equipment test sets that will enable maintainers to thoroughly perform crucial wiring inspections faster then ever before.

Tests of an aircraft wiring system that used to take days, possibly a week or more, with a simple ohm meter can now be accomplished in mere hours with the automated wiring test set now available to aircraft maintainers throughout the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Air Force and Navy officials signed a $23,668,807 contract with Eclypse International Corporation for automated wiring diagnostic equipment test sets earlier this year.

“This acquisition is a tremendous improvement in capability for aviation electronics technicians and aviation electrician’s mates throughout the Navy and their Air Force counterparts,” said Oliviu Muja, Wiring Systems Branch of the Propulsion & Power Engineering Department. “The system will allow maintenance personnel to test and isolate wires to find faults on a system-wide scale.”

By replacing the fleet’s obsolete intermediate level wiring testers, the ability and accuracy of maintaining repairable cable harnesses is enhanced by the reduction of the time required to verify discrepancies and ensuing maintenance. Verification of repaired harnesses has been encumbered in recent years by the inability to maintain the currently authorized, early 1990’s era Wiring Test Set due to parts obsolescence struggles. With the introduction of the Eclypse RTS-501 Aircraft Wire Test Set and its open-system architecture, the equipment will be adaptable to emerging fleet needs as requirements change over the equipment’s intended operational lifespan.

The RTS-501 offers a quick automated evaluation of the important characteristics of wiring, such as: continuity, isolation, insulation and distance to fault capabilities. It basically ensures that power and signals inserted into the electrical systems reach their intended destination.

The system provides fast and accurate test results on all wiring circuits, from simple cables and harnesses to complex printed circuit boards, relay panels and circuit breaker panels. The RTS-501 can also be stacked in a daisy chain to allow up to 128,000 points of switching and can handle 3,500 continuity tests per minute.

The Navy, Marines Corps and Air Force conducted field evaluations of the tool set involving the S-3, E-6, EA-6B, C-2, H-46, H-60, F-15, B-1B and H-53 aircraft. Upon roll-out and system shake-down, the Eclypse tool set earned its money in each of the aircraft platform evaluations. In one instance, the analyzer found a mis-wire in the auto-pilot system and a burn-through of a wire in the flight control system that the aircraft’s maintenance team was unaware of. The analyzer routinely finds troublesome wiring failures even the seasoned maintainer may miss. Simply put, the RTS-501 can perform a more thorough and faster test than any human, as well as record the results for analysis.

The Air Force has also seen an increase in wiring problems on their aging aircraft. Their primary focus has been on the organization level maintenance, said Tom Jordan 4th Maintenance Group/Air Force Engineering and Technical Services Supervisor at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

“Currently we have tested radar wiring on about 88 aircraft,” Jordan said. “Of these aircraft, 22 had wiring problems and a number of them had wiring problems that would not have been discovered without using an automated wire analyzer. Set-up, connection and testing of 480 wires takes about 1 hour with the analyzer and when compared to about 24 hours with an ohm meter.”

At the intermediate level, the Air Force has also seen a tremendous quality and reliability improvement in components like relay panels, Jordan said. These panels can now be tested in minutes versus hours and have virtually every function tested. The RTS-501 with the load bank option, now gives the Air Force maintainer the capability of performing automatic load testing of circuit breaker panels as well.

Currently, only depots and intermediate level maintenance activities use some sort of wire analyzers to “wring” out the wiring and interconnect system of an entire aircraft. That equipment is usually too large and cumbersome for aircraft undergoing maintenance in an operational flight status.

The RTS-501 is a set of boxes able to be carried by one or two people. It is modular in design and can be daisy-chained together with other test sets to check many wire bundles and systems at a time. In addition, the test sets can be configured for any and all aircraft types.

The system also produces a detailed list of test results which allows for data to be collected and analyzed right then and there by the technician, or later by Navy and Air Force engineers to find trends with aircraft wiring systems.

Baseline test data will be collected at set intervals after the AWTS program has been deployed. Data collected from the RTS-501 will be compared directly to current data input in Naval Aviation Logistics Command Management Information System (NALCOMIS). The test data will be collected on the specific system for both proactive and reactive testing. The proactive data collection will help to identify trends in wiring systems and repair anomalies during scheduled maintenance before they cause a non-mission capable problem, while the reactive testing will be to fault-isolate a specific on-aircraft wiring problem.

Although focused on Intermediate-level maintenance, the RTS-501 shows great promise at any maintenance level for the care of increasingly complex wiring systems necessary for an advanced weapon system, Muja said. As technological capabilities of the military’s aircraft weapon systems improve, the reliance on high-fidelity wiring systems becomes ever more vital. In maintaining these critical wiring and interconnect systems, the RTS-501 automated wire analyzer will be a pivotal capability for today’s warfighter.

“This AWTS effort along with the Joint Service Wiring Action Group has been by far the best cooperation and effort between the Navy and Air Force that I have seen in my career,” Jordan said.