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Design Challenges of Highly Efficient Portable Unit for Inspection of Aging Aircraft Electrical Systems.

George Mitchell
Kenneth G. Blemel
Management Sciences, Inc.
6022 Constitution Ave., NE
Albuquerque, NM 87110

Title: Design Challenges of Highly Efficient Portable other problems including poor crimps and solder joints.
Unit for Inspection of Aging Aircraft Electrical Systems. Outer braided shielding can be broken or compromised.
Ground connections become corroded or broken. Shrink
wrap coverings are broken into or chafed through and this
TABLE OF CONTENTS opens the possibility of ingress of condensation. Wiring
located under leaking blue water can cause severe wiring
1. INTRODUCTION ......................................................1
corrosion which in creases wiring impedance. Changes in
2. BACKGROUND........................................................2
impedance can restrict the amount of signature. Ultimately,
3. THE “SMART CONNECTOR” CONCEPT...... ERROR! the wiring cores break due to flexing in flight, bending
BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED. during maintenance, effects of corrosion.
The problem of exposure to water vapor changes the
5. CONCLUSIONS .......................................................4 molecular composition of Kapton insulation from stable
REFERENCES ........ERROR! BOOKMARK NOT DEFINED. benzine rings to dangerous carbide molecules that are well
BIOGRAPHY ...............................................................4 known as the cause of arc tracking and wiring fires.
Overheating and ticking arcs between high tension wires
1. INTRODUCTION with broken insulation is another in the long list of wiring
Aircraft have several thousands of wires and several
hundred connectors that connect miles of conductors. Aging Aircraft Connector Problems
Inspecting and troubleshooting electrical systems is very
time consuming work. Arguably, the electrical wiring Aircraft connectors are designed to lead a tough life. But
system is the most pervasive system of aircraft. Over time, aging aircraft exceed the expected service life, over time
aircraft electrical systems age and deteriorate. Adding the aircraft connector problems develop due to environmental
effects of twists and bending during maintenance, wiring causes and from stresses in operations. Causes include
eventually becomes a major maintenance headache. corrosive environments; disconnects and reconnects during
maintenance; flight profile pressure differentials; exposure
Inspection Using Hand Held Single Wire Testers to dripping condensates; contraction and expansion due to
extreme temperature change from the runway to high
Locating a cable and disconnecting both ends to perform a altitudes; and pressure differentials come with the flight
single wire reflectometry test can easily take 5 minutes. profile.
Individual single wire tests once the harness is safely
disconnected usually take three or four minutes with a hand In addition problematic design choices and tight installation
held TDR unit. Working furiously, impedance testing and situations, as well as repeated disconnection during avionic
logging data one pin at a time by opening a 128 pin repairs can cause problems with wiring and connectors.
connector at just 5 minutes per pin would be 600 minutes or
10 hours. Operational exposure such as salt air exposure in
subtropical environments is a cause of corrosion that
Aging Aircraft Wiring Conduit Health and Integrity destroys the metal shell. When corrosion affects the sockets
and pins it increases impedance affecting signal strength.
Once wiring leaves the factory and is put into aircraft, the Repeated opening of connectors can result in pushed back
problem of inspecting wiring starts. Deterioration, over pins that result in intermittent or fully open circuits.
time, results in: nicks, partially broken multi-wire strands, Straightening of bent pins weakens them and eventually
bare spots where insulation has chafed, wire corrosion and these can break off causing open circuits. Cracked potting
insulation deterioration. Maintenance activity introduces due to thermal stress can result in internal arcing.

Deterioration of environmental seals allows ingress of • architecture for upgrades and adding new
moisture. technologies
• safe for flight line use
These problems can lead to intermittent open circuits which • useable with combinations of live AC and DC
are particularly hard to find and can be very troublesome. signals
Intermittent open problems with fuel gauges and landing • built with COTS components
gear can be very scary. Intermittent “ticking” shorts are also • interface at existing aircraft wiring connectors
situational, happening during turns or flight turbulence. • no damage to connected avionic equipment
Ticking shorts are a maintenance nightmare that does not • cost less than $25,000 per unit
lend to TDR inspections because the problem often clears • inspect both connectors and wiring
when the aircraft is parked. One USAF A-10 in particular
• 100:1 cost effective over a single wire tester*
has earned the nickname “demon” for its wiring troubles
• measure line voltages (0-28DC / 0-440VAC)
that appear only during flight.
• measure circuit capacitance and reactance
Challenges of Live Wire Inspection Testing • measure line resistance
• record parameters and signals
The challenges of live wire testing have been presented • identify intermittent short, open conditions
several times at previous Aging Aircraft conferences. A • perform automated health and integrity diagnostics
major point has been the search for a solution that reduces • locate faults to 10” or 10% of length
the risk of injury to the user of the inspection instrument • portable unit weight less than 10 lbs
damage by avionics. The high voltage pulse used in Time • record results of inspection for future reference
Domain Reflectometry has remained the stumbling block. • provide two way wireless internet access
• wall power or 6 hour rechargeable battery life
In 2000 Management Sciences, contracted with Dr. Cynthia • provide ability to display results on a hand held
Furse of Utah State University to develop an alternative • provide wireless internet access for electronic
approach to TDR by using very low power waveforms in a technical orders and technical manuals
technique called Frequency Domain Reflectometry (FDR). • provide interface to allow growth to use of other
TDR is to FDR as Amplitude Modulation (AM) is to inspection devices
Frequency Modulation. TDR use effects of impedance on • provide a PC interface to enable using a PC
the reflected power spectrum. FDR uses effects of oscilloscope to monitor live signals
impedance on the frequency spectrum. (Patents 6868357
and 6937944 for the FDR method were awarded to Dr.
Furse, and assigned to Management Sciences.) The USAF cost effectiveness goal was somewhat
subjective, but boiled down to a portable unit that cost less
than $20,000, was easy to use, took less time to setup than
2. BACKGROUND OF INDUSTRY NEED existing methods and could provide test, analyses and
recording of results of inspection of harnesses and cables
In the time around 2002 and continuing today, large and with 128 wires in a single sweep of less than 5 minutes
heavy multi-wire test equipment cost over $50,000. These
units rely on high voltage TDR methods and generally
required disconnecting attached avionics to protect them Management Sciences, Inc. offered an R&D program to
from damage of the TDR pulse. The electronic technicians design a wireless battery operated portable unit for flight
lacking access to these units were relying on commercial line and depot live wire inspection and testing based on PC
digital volt-ohm meters of the type used by home and technology, COTS components, Frequency Domain
industrial electricians. Reflectometry, DVOM and a combination of automated
inspection and troubleshooting methods. The name
The US Air Force Mature and Proven Aircraft (MAPA selected for this advanced troubleshooting and inspection
a.k.a. aging aircraft) office at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden product is the Baseline Electrical System Tester (BEST).
Utah recognized that budget and workforce constraints
required a new breed of flight line inspection and
troubleshooting unit that would provide network access to 3. MEETING THE DESIGN CHALLENGES
technical manuals and offer a 100:1 time advantage.
MAPA published a request for small business research and Meeting the Open Architecture and Upgrade Challenge
development leading to a new multi-modal live wire The BEST operating system architecture is fully open and
inspection portable that combined methods for digital volt- provides a generalized “smart rules engine” for real time
ohm meter, reflectometry, and other methods. The short list inspection and instrument control. The BEST software runs
of design open challenges were: in a Unix environment. Using Unix eliminates the problems
caused by a Window’s operating system. The BEST Rules
Engine allows importing new rules for inspection as well as

new or improved applications and analyses algorithms, a interface with hi-pot, thermal and other COTS testers
key feature in any open architecture. specifically designed for inspecting insulation.

Meeting the Safe for Flight Line Use Challenge Meeting the 100:1 Effectiveness Challenge
Being safe for flight line use has multiple meanings, each Achieving 100:1 effectiveness over a single wire tester was
with its own challenge. For example the unit would be a significant challenge. Single wire inspection generally
enclosed and grounded, with an insulated design not to involves a series of resistance measurements, reactance
cause discharges and other tests required in Mil-Std-810. measurements, and reflectometry tests. (Disconnecting
Another example is that the unit would be built with mil- cable ends for TDR is very time consuming.) Each single
spec connectors and components and has protection circuits wire test can take ten or twenty seconds, and often much
so as to not be damaged by voltage spikes that are common longer. Recording the results is another time consuming
in aircraft AC or DC power. tasks. MSI elected a more fully automated approach with
multiple tests accomplished, recorded and transmitted to a
Meeting the Work with Live AC/DC Challenge central server during a sweep of all pins in a single pass.
Being useable with combinations of live AC and DC Inspecting the resistance, impedance, cables with 128
signals required a bi-modal AC / DC design using conductors takes less than five minutes.
components rated for aircraft power levels and circuit
designs that were protected from power spikes. Meeting the Comparative Baselining Challenge
BEST programming provides automated analyses the results
Meeting the COTS Challenge are compared with previous data and baselines from prior
The goal of being built with maximum use of COTS was inspections of the same cables, or of cables in type aircraft.
relatively easy. The BEST solutions is a combination of The BEST circuits measure factors such as circuit
existing COTS PC, Bluetooth™ wireless transceiver, USB capacitance and reactance was accomplished by developing
and hand held technologies. The USB, Ethernet and multi-range measurement circuits.
wireless ports allow plug in of infrared, ultrasound and
TDR technologies. Meeting the Data Recording Challenge
The BEST includes a high speed real time data acquisition
Meeting the Plug and Play at the Flight Line Challenge system for digitizing analog signatures. The digitized data
Meeting the requirement to interface to existing wiring and analytical results are stored in a gigabyte FLASH
connectors for live wire inspection was addressed by memory. The recorded parameters are transmitted wired or
working with a major connector manufacturer to take wireless protocols to a central web server for reference in
maximum advantage of connector interface technologies. future inspections to track deterioration and also to identify
This resulted in developing using a set of adapter cables intermittent short, open conditions was accomplished with
built with a small set of unkeyed interface connectors. development of a calculus for processing data and
Meeting the Safe for Avionics Challenge
The requirement to do “no damage” to aircraft avionic Meeting the Fault Detection and Location Challenge
equipment was addressed by using Frequency Domain The challenge to locate faults to 10” or 10% of length was
Reflectometry and impedance measurement. FDR operates met with use of data fusion algorithms combined with
at very low voltage and low power. A range of relatively baseline correlation methods. These work best when
low frequencies is used, appearing as acceptable noise employed with new cable assemblies, but a baseline set by
levels on signals. the inspection team will suffice in most cases where new
cables are not available.
Meeting the Fault Detection and Location Challenge
The BEST architecture uses multi-modal approach that Meeting the Portability Challenge
fuses data from FDR, reactance and resistance The challenge to put all this capability into a portable unit
measurements enabled inspecting both connectors and weighing less than ten pounds (4.5 kilograms) was met by
wiring. TDR uses measurement of the time to return of use of emerging technology components and innovative
reflected pulses. This makes TDR excellent for design when COTS parts were not available. The final
measurement and finding shorts and opens in miles of cable, design of the BEST unit incorporates a low power COTS
but difficult to use for short distances typical of aircraft processor board and a set of low power multi-purpose
cables and connectors, On the other hand, FDR with its test circuits, each built with a high density PC104 board shape.
for returns of low power waveforms works best for short The electronics and high density battery pack stack and use
distances from centimeters to thousands of inches. of solid state electronics and microprocessors easily met
portability and battery life requirements. The low package
Meeting the Insulation Inspection Challenge size made it easy to add an A/C power supply and features
FDR like TDR is poor at inspecting for chafed insulation such as a wireless card, Ethernet and USB ports to interface
areas and bare spots. This challenge was addressed by to a hand held unit or a standard PC and the internet.
including USB and Ethernet Ports as well as Bluetooth™ to

• interface to a PC for oscilloscope and electronic
technical orders and technical manual
• cost less than $25,000 per unit

Kenneth G. Blemel is a co-founder

and Vice President of R&D for
Management Sciences, Inc. Ken
has successfully guided MSI
research and development in
IR&D, BAA, and over fifteen SBIR,
and STTR contracts. Ken is
recognized for seminal work in
developing “Smart Connectors”
and “Smart Wiring Systems” for
embedded diagnostics and prognostics. Ken holds several
patents including electronic hardware and methods for
electronic microsystems used for implementing wiring
based tests and diagnostics. Mr. Blemel has published
many technical papers and has participated in several
panels, most in the area of software and embedded systems
for reliability, maintainability, and logistics. In 1987 was
awarded the Best Technical Paper of the 41st Quality
Congress of the American Society of Quality Control. He
has a BS in Applied Mathematics (Engineering) from the
Figure 1. The Hardware Architecture
University of Cincinnati and an MS in Applied Mathematics
(Engineering) from the University of Rochester NY.

A system engineered approach was successful in meeting REFERENCES

the many design challenges. The BEST unit using
Frequency Domain Reflectometry exceeded the time and
[1] US Patent 6937944, Furse C. and Blemel K, “FDR
100:1 productivity requirements for live electrical harness
System for Baselining and Mapping”
and connector inspection.
[2] US Patent 6868357, Furse C. “FDR System for Testing
MSI wishes to express its thanks to Jerry Coates, Alva
Wires and Cables”
Maynor, and many other members of the USAF MAPA
team for their collaboration in developing the Baseline
Electrical System Tester. MSI also expresses its [3] US Patent 7277822, Blemel, K., “Embedded System for
appreciation to the USAD Small Business Innovative D&P of Conduits”
Research program for funding the program.
[4] US Trademark 3133634, Blemel, K., “Sentient Sensors”

[5] US Patent 6938177, Blemel, K., “Multi Chip Module”

[6]“Autonomous Situation Awareness and Autonomous
George Mitchell is a Electronics Logistics”, K. Blemel, TFD Group User Groups and
Engineer on systems and Conference, 2006
programs at MSI. George is
currently developing hardware [7] “An Automated Goal Seeking Approach to Machinery
for an Intelligent Power Prognostics and Life Extension”, K. G. Blemel and C.
Management System aboard Stern, Society for Machinery Failure Prevention
military land vehicles. George Technology, 2005
has 7 years experience in

developing Condition Based Maintenance and Electrical

System Test Equipment. He also has experience in
designing sensor networks and Prognostic Health
Management systems for aircraft and ground vehicles. He
has a BSEE from the University of New Mexico.