Monday, December 27, 2010

Reverse Engineering: Building New Pieces for the Airworthiness Puzzle

Welcome to Wired!

incomplete-puzzleIn many ways, maintaining the airworthiness of a transport category aircraft is akin to constantly reworking a jigsaw puzzle. Whether it is a pneumatic or hydraulic valve, tooling used for sheet metal repairs, or a bushing or bearing, each piece is important. For whatever reason, if it no longer measures up to its  type certification data, the puzzle is incomplete, says ASIG Managing Director Luke Ribich, which means the airplane is not airworthy, unable to earn its keep.

If a piece cannot be economically replaced or repaired, or it does not deliver the desired reliability, creating a new piece by reverse engineering the original may well be the most efficient and cost-effective solution, especially when its costs can be shared by a fleet over time because “high-volume programs can buy down the unit cost,” says Ribich.

For example: An airline with a DC-8 fleet needed engine thermocouple harnesses, an expensive item from the OEM with a long lead time. ASIG reverse engineered the harness, and manufactured certified PMA parts for a fraction of the cost of buying them from the OEM.

Better reliability is another benefit of reverse engineering, especially with pieces of older puzzles. “In their day, the 707 and DC-8 were good to have 70 percent dispatch reliability. Today, operators want 92 percent or better dispatch performance,” Ribich says, “and you might not get that out of some of those older materials and process designs.” In addition, “A lot of those old parts suffer from self-inflicted wounds, otherwise known as maintenance malpractice, caused by improper handling by technicians.”

To create a piece of the puzzle ASIG’s engineers dissect an existing product or component. Drawing on an arsenal of tools, from micrometers and laser scanning devices to testing equipment that analyzes metallurgy, hardness, surface texture, and electrical properties, there isn’t anything they don’t know about it. At the same time, they assess the original’s design for reliability, performance and material durability.

In crafting the new piece, which fits the airworthiness puzzle just as the original did, ASIG’s engineers employ all the advances made in design, materials, and manufacturing since the OEM created the original part. ASIG not only produces reverse-engineering technical data packages equal to those of its STC efforts, says Ribich, it can manufacture parts “that stand up to government verification, validation, and qualification” examinations.

Reverse engineering can also be a great learning tool. The lesson, he says, is to create compatible parts that deliver lower cost and better documentation and require less time to manufacture. MROs, (maintenance, repair, and overhaul companies) are turning to ASIG, seeking replacements for expensive parts with long lead times, like the bushings, bearings, and other fittings used in flight control system components.

“The OEM charges $60,000 for this hand-sized chunk of metal because of its captive market, which drives up the costs of these things,” Ribich says. Given the cost and lead time, when one reaches two-thirds of its service value, many airlines “will buy another one, just to have it in stock.” Replacing these items with reversed-engineered PMA parts enable MROs to give their customers more responsive, economical, and flexible service.

In the past, there was some question about using PMA parts on transport category aircraft. This issue came to a head with replacement blades for turbine engines, which are not inexpensive. But the FAA settled that issue several years ago, Ribich says, paving the way for greater use of PMA pieces in the airworthiness puzzle .

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Building Blocks Simplify RFQ Process

Welcome to Wired!

building blockPreparing a request for a quote to integrate new equipment, and the capabilities it provides, can often grow into a process more complicated than it needs to be. An RFQ is like any other business document; its efficacy depends on clear, concise, comprehensive communication. To avoid the stress and delay that comes with making it more difficult than it needs to be, work backwards one block of information at a time.

Everything builds on the cornerstone, on a concise statement of work, says ASIG Managing Director Luke Ribich. “The number one issue with RFQs is the absence of clearly defined operational goals: We want to do this. We want these system qualifications. We want this improved dispatch reliability. We want to satisfy these regulatory requirements by this date and time.”

Rather than being afraid to admit that they don’t know what they don’t know, operators should “be open to the education that comes from it,” Ribich says. “More often than not we’ll get a call from an operator saying ‘I have this problem. I have this need.’ So we start with consultations, research the available solutions, help them create their statement of work, and then, based on the operational requirements, show them what the project  is going to entail.” 

Not fully understanding  the complexity and allowable regulatory  parameters that shape the certification process can lead to confusion. To some, “the certification package consists of installation drawings, wiring diagrams, instructions for continued airworthiness, approved flight manual supplements, and the document data list.” But that’s only the half of it. These things follow the engineering and test data, annotated with the appropriate FAA guidance, that proves to the aircraft certification office’s satisfaction that the new system integrates with the existing systems without suffering or causing problems.

To overcome this confusion, using the cornerstone statement of work, ASIG explains its SEMPER process and leads an operator  through the realities of the certification process. (For an idea of what’s involved, see the three-part STC Symphony.) With the statement of work, “we typically ask for the baseline tech data,” Ribich says, the maintenance manuals, wiring diagrams, repair manuals, and related aircraft documentation pertinent to system being integrated.

If they have already done internal research, in their RFQ operators can identify the equipment, by manufacturer and part number, they would like to use. “That way we can start to gather the necessary intel, if you will, on the device, the spec sheets, the installation data, the OEM manual, what the sensor inputs and outputs are, and all the physical and environmental requirements for mounting and placement.”

But this research is not mandatory. “If they haven’t identified equipment up front, we’ll do a cost configuration assessment,” says Ribich, and present options, as the statement of work allows, that offer the best efficiency, economy, and scalability.

TimeIsMoneyHow much time a project takes depends on its complexity, and the number of separate steps. Design and certification is one step, or line of business, and the manufacture of PMA parts and/or installation kits is another line of business because “the kitting costs won’t be finalized until the design data is finished.”

Customers can influence the timetable greatly. Instead of getting to work after it received the contract, ASIG spent four months educating a recalcitrant Part-121 customer that did not fully grasp the FAA certification requirements that prevented it from installing a system approved for the business-jet version of the airplane it used to transport paying passengers.

This project was nowhere near the complexity of another project, demilitarizing and converting a French Air Force DC-8-72 and its five-man cockpit  into an US-registered aircraft with with a three-man cockpit filled with 21st century systems. But it took less time, 4.5 months from contract award, “and we did the installation in a line flight environment, nosed into an FBO’s hangar.” Like the project, the RFQ that launched it was just as straightforward.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ASIG Certifies iPad EFB on N-Jet Charter Fleet

EFB-PR2Little Rock, AR: December 13, 2010—Avionics & Systems Integration Group (ASIG) accepted—and quickly met—the challenge issued by N-Jet/Northern Illinois Flight Center: Make the Apple iPad a COTS electronic flight bag approved for FAA Operations Specification A061 “paperless” operations in its diverse Part-135 fleet of seven different aircraft models.

“The iPad EFB is about 1/10th the cost of a traditional Class 2 EFB. In addition, the iPad’s ability to use electronic aeronautical data in lieu of paper enroute charts and approach plates can cut the annual cost of paper data in half.  These two factors give the iPad EFB a compelling financial justification.” says ASIG’s Managing Director Luke Ribich, “By integrating the iPad EFB into its diverse fleet,” wrote N-Jet CEO Howard Seedorf, ASIG “has allowed us to reduce our aircraft weight, lessen the burden and expenses associated with managing revision transmittals while improving crew resource management.”

Equally important, the FAA’s acceptance of the iPad EFB system and its documentation provides “future fit options by giving us great flexibility as commercial technologies bring forth new and advanced devices or, as we add additional aircraft types to our existing fleet” of the Citation Excel and Encore+, Astra/G100, and Falcon 10, 50, 900B, and 900EX EASy.

ASIG’s iPad EFB integration expertise includes iPad environmental testing for rapid decompression (RD) and electromagnetic interference (EMI), a “smart” power supply to mitigate FAA concerns about charging lithium batteries on aircraft and the ability to design and certify a variety of aircraft system interfaces for the iPad EFB.

Addressing its “technical and regulatory expertise,” N-Jet wrote that ASIG “went the extra mile to supply expert consultations and often supported short-notice teleconference meetings with our Primary Operations and Avionics Inspectors from our CHDO, [giving] our ASI’s a high degree of confidence in ASIG and the entire project, making the application process trouble-free.”

For additional information regarding ASIG's operating activities, product and services offerings join the company’s technical journal, Wired – an Avionics & Integration Weblog, ASIG’s bi-weekly newsletter or contact Mr. Mike Neder, Director of Business Development, toll-free at (866) 890-ASIG [2744] or ASIG sales group via email at


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

FAA Requires Smart Power Sources for Portable Electronic Devices

Welcome to Wired!

From smart phones to laptop computers to the iPad, portable, personal, and productive electronic devices (PEDs) have not only changed our daily lives, they have redefined the AC outlets found on Part 25 transport category aircraft. Even though PED plugs fit in old-school “dumb” outlets, FAA Policy Memo ANM-01-111-165, Policy Statement of Power Supply Systems for Portable Electronic Devices on Part 25 Airplanes, makes it clear that these outlets are are NOT approved for this use.  

Most aircraft 110-volt AC outlets  today deliver 500 volt-ampere power to whatever is plugged into them, like the cleaning crew’s vacuum cleaner. An iPad is not a vacuum cleaner. Like most PEDs, it has a lithium-polymer battery. Feeding too much juice to lithium batteries can lead to bad things. In   thermal runaway a battery can  deliver shocks, burns, and smoke. And overloading the PSS circuit can shut down the electrical bus it is connected to, and maybe even the generator that powers it.

To avoid these problems—and their consequences—the FAA  requires “smart” PSSs that deliver “Goldilocks” power, not too much, not too little, just right for the PED’s operating needs. In a 1997 policy memo, the FAA said 100-watts adequately powered the laptops of that era, so it was the PSS’s max output. With the maturation and proliferation of the extended PED family, in 2005 the current memo doubled the power limit to 200 watts, still less than half that in dumb outlets.  

In an AC circuit, the 200-watt PSS maximum is better specified in volt-ampere (VA), which is like a watt but not identical. Electrical engineers prefer the volt-ampere because it is the unit of measurement used in the selection of conductors and devices that protect a circuit. Regardless the measurement, the consequences of too much power are the same.

PEDs today have no “novel or unusual design features” that require specific mention of them in federal aviation regulations or requirements, says the policy memo. The current regs and requirements provide an adequate level of safety and the memo lists all that apply to the certification of a PED PSS. Dated March 18, 2005, the memo supersedes 1997 policy for the installation of in-seat power supply systems. The current policy covers all PED power supply systems regardless of the outlet’s location: the cockpit, seats, cabin baseboards, or a cabinet on the aft bulkhead.

Related regulatory guidance can be found in two other policy memos: ANM-100-2000-00105 (September 18,2000), Certification of In-Flight Entertainment Systems, addresses wire installation and cabin components, including “smart” outlets. ANM-111-2002-01-04 (January 28, 2003), provides guidance on wiring design and instructions for continued airworthiness.

Limiting the PED PSS to 200 VA prevents its use for unintended functions, like driving a curling iron or hair dryer. It is for PEDs only, and further guidance can be found in Volume 4 of FAA Order 89001, which covers electronic flight bags (EFBs). A tablet computer like an iPad, worn as a kneeboard, is a Class I EFB. Mount it in a bracket and it is a Class II EFB. Regardless, it is still a portable electronic device that needs power.

Of particular interest is section 4-1644E, Power Sources: When the iPad’s battery is the primary power source, aircraft power can be secondary, recharging the battery in flight.  Continuing this thought, Section 4-1648A, EFB Power Source, points back to the PED PSS installation requirements. A note reiterates the safety hazards posed by over-charging or discharging lithium-ion batteries. “Operators should have lithium ion battery charging procedures which are in total accordance with the battery manufacturer’s charging instructions and prevent aggravation of lithium ion battery thermal hazards.”

With a “dumb” outlet that delivers a fixed flow of energy, this is easier said than done because every manufacturer has slightly different charging instructions. Some prevent overcharging by automatically reducing the AC input when the battery is topped off. Others tell the user to pull the plug when the LED stops flashing.

Therein lies the beauty of a smart power supply system like ASIG’s Astronics AES EmPower® system: it reacts to the load of the connected device and ensures against over-current, over/under-voltage, and frequency differential conditions. Once satisfied that the connected device does not demand more than these thresholds, it provides only the amount of volt-amperes deemed suitable for PEDs as established by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Naturally, there is much more involved in installing a power supply system specifically for PEDs whether they are video games, smart phones, or iPads. For more specifics, contact ASIG.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!