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Publication Date: 08/1/2007
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Aging AWACS Gets Money-Saving Diagnostics
Venerable E-3 AWACS aircraft are kept operational with new testing systems. Photo: U.S. Air Force

Kissimmee, FL — We're not too far removed from a time when the DoD came under fire for overly costly toilet seats and hammers, so it's especially gratifying to find a company that has saved many millions of dollars of taxpayer money for the government.

The USAF currently operates a fleet of 33 E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft, built on a militarized version of the commercial Boeing 707-320B airframe. They have been in service since 1977, and while there have been several rounds of electronics upgrades, most of the original electronics hardware dating to the late 70s and early 80s is still on board and operational.

Keeping this legacy hardware afloat has been a daunting task. Given the present state of the electronics art, it's almost like trying to maintain a fleet of 1937 Lincoln Zephyrs when there are no factory replacement parts, available, but how about a nice 2008 Lincoln Town Car with on-board navigation, GPS, satellite radio, and many other creature comforts?

Leading the fight to keep those AWACS E-3 aircraft operational has been Dennis Robichaud, US AWACS Support Equipment Program Manager and a consultant to the U.S. Air Force, for ARINC Engineering Services LLC, currently based at Hanscom AFB in Lexington, MA. "We are upgrading the aircraft with modifications and changing the old mission suites aboard the aircraft," he told U.S. Tech, "and while there have been many improvements, much of the older electronics is still on the planes, and we're still repairing it."

The watershed year for this assignment was 2004, when Robichaud's AWACS company received funding from the Secretary of the Air Force to follow through with his sustainment proposal, what he said was basically a science experiment. He purchased four PinPoint II test systems from DiagnoSYS to test the legacy electroncs systems.

By using the new test systems on defective boards pulled from the AWACS aircraft, the aging PC boards could be diagnosed and repaired and placed back into the service shop's supply system inventory of good replacements for the aircraft. When repairs are needed, a flightline technician can draw a good replacement part. "The PinPoint II system helps us to keep these parts handy," Robichaud said.

The initial investment in PinPoint II hardware was $485,000 for four systems, and the USAF projects that this small investment will save the government some $22 million over the llife of the program system. In the two-plus years since Robichaud started the program, the USAF has already saved $12 million, and officials are thoroughly delighted.

And recognition has been bestowed by Robichaud, citing DiagnoSYS Systems as a valued partner in a cost-avoidance program that is right on track. Implementing the DiagnoSYS PinPoint II test system has succeeded beyond initial estimates of cost avoidance and time requirements to re-host test program sets (TPS) from dedicated legacy systems.

Dedicated Legacy Boards
AWACS used the PinPoint II to help with dedicated legacy automated test systems where current repair technology has been identified as "at risk" for mission-critical boards. Some legacy test systems themselves are considered at risk and unsupportable as manufacturing sources are diminished. In most cases, test programs from the legacy test systems can be re-hosted on the PinPoint II platform in a matter of weeks, not years.

"We are happy that the AWACS program placed such a high value on our contribution to avoiding costs at such a high level," said Tim Webb, President, DiagnoSYS Systems, "But giving AWACS the ability to have highly valued equipment more effectively back in service faster is priceless, and that makes our role gratifying."

"The fact that the PinPoint has been able to generate such a large cost avoidance for AWACS exceeded everyone's expectations," said Tom Popolo, Director of Military Accounts DiagnoSYS Systems. "You recognize the savings on a case by case basis but you don't realize the enormity until you see it from the program level. We know that additional cost avoidance can be realized by this program and most any other mission critical programs in the future. We tell our potential customers that if they try it they'll like it and AWACS obviously likes it."

Robichaud agrees and disagrees; true, the system is saving money, but that's what he expected. He went into the program with very high expectations to begin with, citing that $22 million savings goal. He aimed high and expects to hit his target easily.

The PinPoint II provides an economical and complete diagnostic and test solution for in-circuit functional tests of analog and digital components, VI analysis, boundary scan, PXI Integration and schematic reverse engineering, all on the same test platform. Testing can be done using chip level interface test adapters, probes, edge connectors or fixtures to extend the systems capability. Test programs are developed with TestVue 32, PinPoint II's intuitive, Windows®-based software uses clear menus and interactive graphics to guide users through each stage of test strategy, automatically generating on-screen prompts to get the job done right, without delays.

TestVue 32 comes complete with a built-in library of more than 16,000 devices, including military components, which are constantly updated and accessible via the Internet. Users can add their own devices to the database or use the optional Data Capture Pod, which captures live data in-circuit while the device is in use.

The PinPoint II's advanced reverse engineering feature allows users to generate schematics and net lists for obsolete boards or when documentation is unavailable.

For more information, contact: DiagnoSYS Systems, Inc.,808 North Hoagland Blvd., Kissimmee, FL 34741 800-788-6219 fax: 407-846-6416 E-mail: Web:

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