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Automated test helps maintainers solve F-15 problems

John Hysell and Henry Sparks get a look at one of the automated flight test control systems of an F-15 Eagle during a demonstration Aug 1 at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. The tester plugs into the F-15, like hooking up a car engine to a computer to discover engine trouble. Mr Hysell and Mr. Sparks are aircraft mechanics. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sue Sapp)

John Hysell and Henry Sparks get a look at one of the automated flight test control systems of an F-15 Eagle during a demonstration Aug 1 at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. The tester plugs into the F-15, like hooking up a car engine to a computer to discover engine trouble. Mr Hysell and Mr. Sparks are aircraft mechanics. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sue Sapp)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- Maintainers from bases around the world are focusing their eyes on Robins Air Force Base, the 566th Combat Sustainment Squadron's test equipment office, and a new test set that officials developed as a solution to F-15 Eagle maintenance dilemmas.

A new automated flight control system test set has already proven itself at Robins AFB and at other U.S. bases, said Mark Kitchens, a Warner Robins Air Logistics Center integrated product team equipment specialist who assisted in the design of the test set. 

Shortly after the test set's arrival at Robins AFB in mid-July, it helped maintainers solve a mechanical mystery surrounding an F-15 that had flown four flight tests and was still failing.

"Within 30 minutes we found the problem, and had we had this tester upfront we would have saved $222,800," Mr. Kitchens said.

The tester, which is intended to replace the existing test equipment, was designed to meet all the needs of F-15 maintainers in the field.

"The old one was a 'go, no go,'" said Virginia Slay, a system engineer for the test set. "That means when you ran the test, you got a green light or a red light that told you the plane was failing. You kind of had to figure out what part to change through trial and error. You didn't have a clue which part of the aircraft was faulty."

The new test set can identify the problem and give maintainers step-by-step instructions to remedy the problem through the display screen, Mr. Kitchens said.

The new test set recently helped the Oregon Air National Guard at Kingsley Field find the mechanical malfunction of what maintainers refer to as a "six-week hangar queen," which means maintainers at the base had spent six weeks or more trying to isolate a mechanical problem within the aircraft.

"Within four hours the test set isolated the problem to a broken wire on the tail bone," Mr. Kitchens said. 

The new test set is an answer to many maintainers' prayers, said Senior Master Sgt Alan Holmes, the avionics flight line section supervisor for the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field. "We were able to test and determine in a matter of hours the cause of the problem and it has flown well ever since." 

"Not only will the new test set save time by allowing problems to be isolated quicker, it will allow the Air Force to avoid expenditure of millions of dollars over several years on parts misidentified through trial and error location of mechanical malfunctions," said Helen Thompson, an interim program manager of the F-15 flight control test sets. "At the present, only one test set has been produced and the program management integrated product team is developing the overall acquisition strategy to satisfy mission needs."

In the interim, the existing tester housed here with the 566th CBSS test equipment office will travel where needed to isolate problems on troublesome jets.

"Now when maintainers have a real problem jet, we are going to bring (the test set) to them," Mr. Kitchens said. "That's what makes this one so important, because it's actually going to do a lot of traveling."

John Hysell, a Robins AFB F-15 aircraft mechanic, said he was impressed with the new test set because of its capabilities and the ease of use such as the remote module, which allows the tester to walk around the plane while testing and provides on-screen menu and technical data.

One of Mr. Hysell's other favorite features on the test set was the easy setup, such as having separate fittings to hook up to the aircraft before connecting the cables.

"We won't have to worry about the weight of the cable now. The old one was just one continuous piece without the elbow," Mr. Hysell said.

The test set is stored in two cases or crates that hold everything you need to test the aircraft. Along with being easy to transport, the crates and equipment are also designed to deal with varying weather conditions such as being able to survive temperatures ranging from 150 degrees to 40 below zero.

"It's a design that could sit in the back of a truck in Alaska and survive it," Mr. Kitchens said.

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