Bomber Modular Acquisition System promotes “data independence”

  • Published
  • By Alan Colthorp
  • 812th Aircraft Instrumentation Test Squadron

A chance meeting at an International Test & Evaluation Association workshop in 2017 has led to “data independence” utilizing the Bomber Modular Acquisition System developed by the 812th Aircraft Instrumentation Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

BMDAS is the first entirely government-developed, government-installed, and government-supported instrumentation data acquisition system in the history of bomber test. The first generation of BMDAS consisted of two distinct networks: a data acquisition network and a networked High Speed Camera (nHSC) system used for weapons separation testing.

BMDAS is the first fully networked (Ethernet based) system of its size in Air Force Test Center AFTC. The data acquisition networked system captures/records all bus parameters, analog signals, discrete signals, and videos from cockpit displays and over the shoulder cameras. An all new video switching system was designed for BMDAS that accepted up to 22 video inputs and 16 separate video outputs. Any of the inputs could be switched to onboard instrumentation monitors as well as telemetered to the ground.

The nHSC system is dedicated to any number of digital cameras capable of up to 500 frames per second (fps) each, recorded onto a centrally networked recorder and controlled by a Network Manager (nMGR). The current B-52 configuration consists of nine cameras, the B-1 configuration has twelve. The nMGR handles all instructions including programming, operations, and downloads to the central recorder. The cameras will capture up to 2510 frames in internal memory prior to downloading to either a local CF card or the network recorder.

The nMGR also has a RS-170 video output that serves as an input to the video switching matrix which will allow any one of the nHSC cameras to function as a situational awareness camera to display in the cockpit and/or telemetered to the ground. At a typical 200 fps, the nHSC will capture 12.5 seconds of imagery prior to having to download to storage.

The foundation of the BMDAS project began with a chance meeting at the International Test & Evaluation Association (ITEA) Test Instrumentation Workshop in May of 2017. The Bomber Instrumentation Team from the 812th Aircraft Instrumentation Test Squadron (AITS) met with now-retired Lt. Gen. Matthew Molloy, AFOTEC Commander at the time, and others to discuss the idea of “data independence.”

Molloy gave an impassioned speech to everyone on the importance of data independence, which the Bomber Instrumentation team inimitably understood and fully embraced.  The term “data independence” refers to the idea that the organizational entity that actually develops and manufactures the weapons System Under Test (SUT), should not be the same entity that collects and analyzes the data used to determine if the same SUT meets specifications. 

Data independence is a simple concept, unfortunately it is not always followed when developing new weapon systems. Taking Molloy’s words to heart, the Bomber Instrumentation team approached the Bomber System Program Office (SPO) with the concept of a new airborne instrumentation system that would be designed, installed, and maintained by government engineers and technicians. 

The Bomber Instrumentation Team then travelled to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to meet with Col. Lance Reynolds, B-52 Senior Material Leader, and Paul Ratke, B-52 Chief Engineer, to brief them on the “First Step toward Data Independence at Bombers,” citing some emphatic words from Molloy. Once the team got beyond the technical portion of the briefing and was about to start the programmatic part, SPO leadership stopped and asked “when can you get started?” That was the start towards data independence and the development of the new instrumentation system.

Because of the tight timeline from when BMDAS was chosen to when the first of the ACAT-1 programs needed to be operational, the Bomber Instrumentation Team had to quickly engage with the Air Force Global Strike Command, Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, Air Force Nuclear Warfare Center, AFTC, and the B-52 SPO to coordinate a first ever, aircraft “pre-wire modification” of the B-52 during Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM). The team hurriedly dispatched to Tinker AFB and successfully installed network wiring in areas throughout the B-52 aircraft that were only accessible during PDM activities.

The BMDAS designs were far from complete when the first team was dispatched to perform the pre-wire, so assumptions were made as to what the new instrumentation system would require, and spare wires were installed in the event something was overlooked. BMDAS designs were still in their preliminary phase when B-52H #0031 arrived at Edwards to complete the extensive modifications.

After more than a year in modification to install one of the most sophisticated instrumentation data acquisition systems to date within AFTC, B-52H #0031 flew its first mission on Feb. 6, 2020, with successful results and positive feedback from the aircrew. The second BMDAS aircraft (B-52H #1019) is nearing completion and will be joining #0031 in support of the first of several ACAT-1 programs planned to carry the Stratofortress well past 2050 and into its tenth decade.

With spare network lines installed during pre-wire, BMDAS essentially has no limits, as additional network lines can be activated if the current network becomes overloaded. B-52H #0036 will be the next to receive BMDAS this year followed by its sister ship #0050 in 2021 as the permanently assigned test fleet at Edwards. Those two aircraft will support a myriad of hypersonic weapons programs as well as numerous other weapon systems upgrades.

Plans are already in place to upgrade and enhance BMDAS so that it will be able to support additional requirements for all the future B-52 programs. Additional data buses and video capabilities are being added as well as bulk capture of all on-board Ethernet systems. The enhanced BMDAS will be the new baseline for all upcoming applications. Two additional B-52H aircraft will support the next ACAT-1 program to upgrade its radar and other avionics systems.  

The Radar Modernization Program (RMP) will provide state of the art radar and avionics upgrades typically found on fifth generation fighters. RMP will have high speed fiber requirements, and BMDAS is already being developed to handle it. The recorders are being upgraded from 1 Gigabit per second Ethernet (1 GigE) capability to a 10 Gigabit per second Ethernet (10 GigE) capability, and the baseline storage capacity will increase from the current 512 Gigabytes to 12 Terabytes per recorder.

The same BMDAS 10GigE recorders will be used during the B-52’s Commercial Engine Replacement Program. CERP will replace all eight B-52H engines with commercial, off-the-shelf regional jet engines for increased reliability, maintainability, efficiency, noise reduction and hopefully less smoke. CERP will be a massive program that will require retesting of nearly every aircraft subsystem, including the generators, hydraulic systems, cooling, and environmental systems.  

BMDAS will be used to collect thousands of analog parameters, including strain, vibration, acoustics, temperature, and flow on the CERP aircraft to record the overwhelming amount of data that will be generated from the thousands of analog instrumentation transducers and aircraft avionics bus parameters. There has not been an all-encompassing bomber test program like CERP in quite some time.

The 812 AITS Bomber Instrumentation Team consisted of only about a dozen people back in 2017, but now has grown to about 60 people, working full-time trying to keep up with the aircraft modifications, mission support, and new bomber programs.  The team of instrumentation engineers, technicians, logisticians, and project managers have outgrown their facilities and lab, but amazingly have kept pace with the ever increasing workload. 

The workload is slated to steadily increase for the next 5-7 years, and this is just for the various B-52 programs, not to mention the many B-1 programs that are on the horizon. The incredible work that this team has accomplished is simply amazing, and to think that the genesis of it all started with a conversation about the importance of data independence.