Demand for avionics test systems is steady despite economic challenges

By John McHale

Designers of avionics test systems say they are excited about technology investment and comforted by steady military contract wins despite the slow commercial aviation market.

"Military bookings are much greater than commercial, but commercial aviation customers are still placing orders," says Bill Schuh, vice president of sales at Ballard Technology in Everett, Wash.

"The economy has had an effect on just about all segments of the market and we see challenges across the board, but also increased opportunity with new technology making its way into the market such as time-triggered networking and VPX technology," says Ben Daniel, business director Avionics Group, GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Ballard avionics test systems are designed for the demanding rugged environments in military applications and can be more expensive, Schuh says. However, commercial aviation integrators still buy Ballard's commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products because at the end of the day they are more reliable and much less expensive than a custom, one time design, he adds.

They especially like the Ballard because despite its cost is "quieter than any thing out there for in-flight testing," Schuh says.

Ballard's DO-160-certified product is a small, lightweight embedded computer with built-in interfaces for standard peripherals and for various avionics databuses. Under the direction of its application specific software, the device product can autonomously perform tasks that involve receiving information from some interfaces and processing and mapping the information into other interfaces, company officials say. As a protocol converter, the Avionics BusBox 2000 can aid in the integration of commercial and military avionics. For example, acting as a MIL-STD-1553 Bus Monitor and an ARINC 429 transmitter, the Ballard device could make navigation data from a military system available to a commercial device.

At the heart of the Ballard device is a user programmable PowerPC processor, which controls the various standard (serial, Ethernet, and USB) and avionics databus (MIL-STD-1553, ARINC 429/708/717, etc.) interfaces.

"We are seeing more of a demand for integrated test and measurement systems with an emphasis on portable, full-featured test systems that can be quickly deployed on the ground and in the air," GE Fanuc's Daniel says. "Rather than try to cobble a test system together with products from several suppliers, which may not be easy to integrate together, our customers want a test system that just works right from the beginning."

Daniel says end users of their test systems "are looking for an integrated portable system and our BTP series analyzers for all three avionics protocols are powerful integrated test packages with the analysis software, avionics interface card, a semi-rugged portable computer host, and cables for immediate use with no integration issues.

GE Fanuc's BTP-1553 uses BusTools/1553 Analysis, Test and Simulation Software –an integrated, Windows-based, application solution for MIL-STD-1553 test, analysis and simulation, according to the GE Fanuc web site. The system also uses a GUI interface to enable quick monitoring and analyzing of bus traffic as well as display multiple real-time engineering unit values and user-formatted graphs.

For 1553 avionics test applications engineers at Data Device Corp. (DDC) in Bohemia, N.Y., have designed the BU-67103U USB, a portable off-the-shelf device, says Amir Massumi, marketing director at DDC.

The device is an interface to 1 or 2 dual-redundant MIL-STD-1553 channels, 4 ARINC 429 Receive channels, 2 ARINC 429 Transmit channels, eight user-programmable digital discrete I/O's, IRIG-B time code input, and 1 Pulse-per-Second (PPS) Output. The device is available as 1553 only, 429 only, or populated with 1553/429 Multi-IO, according to the DDC web site. The USB device can be powered directly from the USB interface or by an external power source.

The device includes the BU-69092S MIL-STD-1553 AceXtreme C Software Development Kit (SDK) and the DD-42992S ARINC 429 C SDK, including source code samples and detailed documentation, to support all modes of operation, according to the DDC web site. Optional graphical software packages include the MIL-STD-1553 BusTrACEr Analyzer/Simulator, ARINC 429 Data Bus Analyzer (DBA), ARINC 615 Data Loader, LabVIEW Multi-I/O support package, and dataMARS Data Analysis Tool. The optional software packages allow users to easily generate or monitor avionics data for 1553 or 429 operation.

Military business has also been fruitful for test suppliers Aeroflex in Plainview, N.Y., and ITCN in Dayton, Ohio, -- both companies announced military design wins this month.

ITCN won an Air Force contract that will allow ITCN to continue its development and transitioning of the BCIT (Bus Characterization and Integrity Toolset) from a prototype to a commercial product, according to an ITCN release.

The contract makes it easy for ITCN to enhance and expand BCIT features, company officials say. The first $62.7K delivery order under the award is for the BCIT to support additional aircraft cable plants, including 50 and 55-ohm impedance semi-rigid RF coax cables. ITCN will also investigate additional cable groups used in military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms. As more orders come in, more features will become available as standard off-the-shelf product options, according to the release.

The BCIT is an all-in-one toolset for MIL-STD-1553 embedded computer systems. Its portable, rugged design enables BCIT use in the field and on the flightline to test 1553 databus network health and communication, and detect cabling problems to within 6 inches on up to a 1,000 ft twisted pair cable, company officials say. A semi-rugged model has been developed for those that work in a less demanding environment. It offers the same test capabilities and portability of the rugged BCIT, but without the additional cost associated with a unit that is ruggedized to meet military specifications.

The BCIT has a database driven user interface that allows users to save and recall bus topology, test data, and historical reference data. The device also has a secure, removable hard disk drive, for classified or restricted working conditions.

The U. S. Department of Defense (DOD) awarded Aeroflex a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the U.S. Marine Corps to supply Ground Radio Maintenance Automatic Test Systems (GRMATS), according to an Aeroflex release. For this contract Aeroflex will supply its newly developed test platform, the 7200 Configurable Automated Test Set (CATS).

The 7200 is a COTS platform for testing software-defined radios, including military tactical radios and other high technology devices.

"With its modular, standards-based design, the 7200 CATS makes radio testing
future-proof," says Jeff Gillum, vice president and general manager, Aeroflex Wichita in the release. "We can test any radio standard today and within the same bench-top box, change test capabilities for any radio or module technology planned for future deployment."

The 7200 CATS can test radar, avionics, and many other devices, company officials say. It combines industry-standard hardware modules and multigigabit per second data busses with a component-based plug and play software architecture.

The 7200 is based on the Aeroflex Common Platform architecture, which was designed to be compatible with the Software Communications Architecture (SCA) used by JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) program. The 7200 supports the testing of existing and planned JTRS radio families, company officials say.

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