Innovation in Flight Test Instrumentation and Data Networks

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July 20, 2020

Innovation in Flight Test Instrumentation and Data Networks

Published in Aerospace Testing International

The data that flight testing provides to the aerospace industry is a valuable commodity. It is used to develop better and more efficient aircraft and to ensure that once developed, aircraft can be used in a safe and effective manner.

The tools used to acquire, store and transmit flight test data – flight test instrumentation (FTI), data acquisition networks, and telemetry – are therefore a vital part of the aerospace sector. These tools require a high level of maturity because they must be reliable and accurate. In addition, flight test engineers face commercial pressures to reduce the certification cycle of aircraft and optimize resources for cost reduction. Innovation in flight therefore often aims to make FTI and data acquisition networks more flexible, easier to install and use, and more accurate.

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ZigBee

Paul Hart, chief technology officer at Curtiss-Wright sees demand for wireless from the flight test community being met already. “There is take-up of wireless because it can solve lots of problems,” he says. “For example, wiring a strain gage on a wingtip takes a lot of invasive work. The use of wireless for this type of application is tried and tested, almost routine.”

Curtiss-Wright has done some work with wireless sensors, particularly using ZigBee, which is one of the more widely-used protocols used for wireless FTI. ZigBee has proved useful with rotating machinery like helicopter rotor blades, where circular data acquisition units, essentially accelerometers have been developed and installed on a rotor blade to measure dynamics. “You could use slip rings and commutators for a wired installation, but you’d have to modify the aircraft itself, so wireless is useful for rotors,” says Hart. “You also have to get power to the electronics and that can be fulfilled now by piezoelectric energy harvesting technology.

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