How New Data Acquisition Tech is Tackling the Information Mountain
Authored by Woodrow Bellamy III, Avionics Magazine
Aircraft data acquisition technology continues to evolve with more modularity, increased processing power and real time air-to-ground transfer capabilities alongside increasing proliferation of engine, aircraft system and airframe component sensors.
Airbus and Boeing’s re-engined workhorse aircraft, the A320 neo and 737 MAX, will enter service in 2016 and 2017, respectively, with standard data acquisition architectures that can provide unprecedented collection and transmission of data from sensors and data buses all throughout the aircraft. At the same time, flight data acquisition technology hardware and software suppliers, manufacturers, and systems integrators are expanding the capabilities of their existing data acquisition technologies with a focus on improving the operators’ ability to move data off of aircraft in a timely and cost-efficient way. These improvements aim to enable Aircraft Health Monitoring (AHM) and predictive maintenance with new technology that can be retrofitted to legacy aircraft. The Avionics Magazine 2016 Data Acquisition reader survey found that the two leading reasons operators consider upgrading their aircraft’s data acquisition technology today is to comply with new civil aviation regulations and to increase their ability to perform real-time monitoring of flight data. Here, we feature perspectives from leading industry data acquisition technology providers on what’s available today, and where the industry is headed.
When conducting modern flight-test campaigns, engineers must capture an increasing number of measurements. Technicians must gather more data than ever with operating equipment that tests hardware and technologies and applications provided by different vendors. One way that flight test engineers are looking to address these needs is by moving the data acquisition hardware closer to the sensors that collect the streams of data that they acquire, store and transmit into meaningful and actionable information post-flight. This requires technicians to mount a data acquisition chassis in locations that are small and subject to harsh in-flight conditions. To address the challenges of providing hundreds of channels of measurement capability, Curtiss-Wright recently introduced its Axon Data Acquisition Unit (DAU), with a high-speed serial backplane enabling up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) dedicated link per module. Compared to the manufacturer’s current generation KAM 500 DAU, the Axon is 55 percent smaller than the cross section of the KAM 500 chassis, features dual-Gigabit Ethernet outputs and allows engineers to place their data acquisition system closer to their sensors by allowing multiple singular or segmented chassis or remote node-style configurations.
“We designed Axon to be modular, allowing engineers to fit anywhere from two to16 modules in a chassis. You can remove one of the data acquisition modules that fit inside the chassis wrap them in one, which we call an Axonite, and place them in a location away from the chassis. By doing that you create a mini-data-acquisition system, which is less than 8 cubic inches in size, and you can place them up to 20 meters away from the chassis itself. The module that you slot into the Axonite is the same module you put in the chassis itself, so if you have a stock of modules, you can use them in any configuration,” says Dave Buckley, chief architect of engineering at Curtiss-Wright.
The data acquisition manufacturer also continues to see demand for its traditional flight data recording technology. Curtiss-Wright supplies the Isskor data recorder system, an integrated flight data acquisition monitoring, processing and recording solution with an integrated cockpit control unit and camera. The company also supplies an integrated flight-data acquisition unit designed to provide Irkut Corp.’s MC-21 aircraft with data acquisition capability over the life of that airframe.
“In the flight test world, we continue to see a trend for more and more data to be acquired. The amount of data that was acquired in the past purely to meet certification is now being added to a lot of data that is gathered through design organizations to test their own simulation of the aircraft. The designers of the aircraft like to get a lot of information back from the flight test campaign so they can validate their own models and understandings of exactly how the aircraft flies and see that it flies as expected. With the amount of data being captured today, engineers are putting 100s of megabits per second through their data acquisition systems, whereas that may not have been the case five to 10 years ago. That’s why we designed the Axon with a high-speed backplane where modules have a 1-gigabit link to the controllers, so the data acquisition chassis can gather all of the data needs that are required today, and as the trending upward of data acquisition continues into the gigabit domain,” said Buckley.
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