TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma --
Rex Mason, 555th Software Maintenance Squadron electrical engineer, recently led a team of four additional electronics engineers who tackled testing challenges on a Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base.
Dubbed the Single Point Excitation for Hardness Surveillance program team, a part of the 76th Software Maintenance Group, the team has been chosen as an Air Force Sustainment Center nominee for the “2018 General Larry O. Spencer Innovation Team Award.”
555th SMXS Flight Chief Curtis Haley nominated the team made up of Mason, Ben Thornton, Maruisz Basista, Ryan Wood and Steve Nelson for the award. He said the Air Force-level award recognizes an individual or a team whose actions demonstrate innovation in cost and manpower savings to improve efficiency, operational readiness and replication of the innovation across the Air Force enterprise.
“As the name implies, we perform software development and maintenance for weapon systems and support equipment throughout the Air Force,” Haley said. “Along with software, the 555th performs systems engineering development for various Air Force customers, including the Air National Guard and the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group. We also provide engineering support work for production equipment operated at Tinker as well.
“The software name is a little bit of a misnomer because the 555th, along with the 76th Software Maintenance Group at large, has a lot of engineers who develop hardware alongside software.”
The program’s challenge was to develop a more modern system that would streamline the process for performing a SPEHS test on the E-3 aircraft. The objective of the test was to verify the integrity of the aircraft’s exterior electromagnetic shielding, ensuring that the aircraft’s internal electronics are protected from the effects of an external electromagnetic pulse. The original lengthy and complicated testing process took up to 12 hours to set up and perform using an existing legacy system, it involved very bulky machinery and needed four people to execute.
“It was kind of a new area for most of us here because in our area the last venture where we did that kind of engineering was back in college,” Mason said. “So, we basically had to relearn everything that we haven’t touched since we were in college. There were a lot of challenges on the project that we don’t typically face out here.”
He said his squadron typically works with aircraft engines performing diagnostics and gathering health information, so re-engineering the SPEHS test meant new challenges for the team.
“It was a new avenue for us to really tackle,” Mason said. “Previously, just to take a simple test-point measurement required two people carrying a bunch of equipment, so we wanted to reduce that footprint down to a more economical and efficient streamlined process. We wanted it to be easier to work with and save the Air Force money in the terms of labor and material costs.”
He said by re-engineering the process, the new SPEHS test now only takes two people and about three hours to perform.
“We changed out everything,” Mason said. “There’s actually two parts to this test. There’s the piece of equipment that actually energizes the aircraft and applies the source single, and there’s a separate package used where they go around (the aircraft) and take measurements with. Instead of a bulky six-pound laptop computer, they can use a ruggedized tablet PC.
“In the past, all the equipment was carried in multiple Pelican boxes, a heavy duty industrial box shipping case. We looked into creating a pit box to consolidate all the equipment into a single package, like those used by the mechanics at NASCAR.”
The team worked with various vendors and used some commercial-off-the-shelf and custom-made solutions, keeping the price point low. They also streamlined the case so that the tools snap back into place.
“They run this test on every incoming and outgoing E-3,” Mason said. “Now, the test minimizes the need for overtime because it can easily be completed in one shift so the aircraft can go back out on schedule and isn’t held over for an extra shift.”
Another benefit has been the fact that the team can do their own data reporting, including the enhanced consolidation of data.
“Before, Boeing engineers had to come out for the tests to troubleshoot if there were any issues,” Mason said. “Sometimes it took up to two weeks to get the data back from them. Now, we can do our own comprehensive reports which saves a lot of time and money.”