In a line of work with little margin for error, Aerospace Avionics engineers the reliable electrical and electronic devices used in military and commercial aviation. Barbara Kram checks the instruments.
When is a door not a door? When it’s on an aircraft. An aircraft door is actually an integrated electromechanical system that includes sensors linked to a data unit, which feeds the onboard computer and cockpit control panel. This isn’t like the little switch that hits the door in a refrigerator. An aircraft uses a non-contact sensor to determine if a door is open or closed and fully latched. In its 100,000 square-foot facility at Islip MacArthur Airport in Bohemia, N.Y., 30-year-old Aerospace Avionics designs and manufactures advanced aviation components such as proximity sensors that use inductors. The company uses solid-state electronics, meaning that there are no moving parts to maintain or wear out.
Aerospace Avionics’ data acquisition systems also monitor the wing ailerons, which allow the plane to bank and turn; the mechanical parts on the thrust reversers, which decelerate the plane during landing; and the flaps and landing gear. These systems provide highly reliable, highly accurate data on the status of almost any moving part on the aircraft.
In fact, Aerospace Avionics produced the largest proximity sensing system flying today. On board the C-17 military cargo plane, the system can accommodate 140 passive proximity sensors, each connected by a twisted pair cable up to 250 feet in length. Aerospace Avionics’ newest sensor systems are flying on the Dornier 328 and 428.
Using either incandescent or light-emitting-diode technology, the company also makes caution, warning and advisory control equipment; panel displays; cockpit lighting and control dimmers; fuel management panels; and annunciator panels. Its products are not typically off-the-shelf, catalogue equipment; they are custom-built for specific aircraft and applications.
Aerospace Avionics also provides power conversion units for large airframe manufacturers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. In addition to the C-17, its components and systems can be found on the C-130 cargo plane, F-16 and F-18 fighters, the B-52 and many other military aircraft. The high-profile U.S. Space Shuttle program depends on Aerospace Avionics’ systems, too.
On the commercial side, the systems are key components of Boeing’s 757 and 767 jets. The next-generation double-decker Airbus A380 is also slated to incorporate custom electronic subsystems by Aerospace Avionics.
Tower of Power
The various sensitive and sophisticated equipment on an aircraft, such as the flight computer and cockpit displays, require controlled regulation of power and a specialized battery charging system. Aerospace Avionics is an industry leader in customized, fully militarized power conversion systems including regulated and unregulated transformer rectifier units (TRU), battery chargers, static inverters, converters, and uninterruptible power systems (UPS). Its battery chargers use innovations such as microprocessor-based charging and conditioning regimes, charge monitoring and built-in test (BIT) functionality to maximize battery life and optimize operation.
Aerospace Avionics’ secondary tower products transform the high-voltage main power generated on the aircraft into the specific current needed for the electrical subsystems. For example, a prelaunch missile power system provides regulated power to the guidance system of air-launched missiles. The company also packages a wide range of electrical power products for air-, sea- and land-based applications, such as portable power supplies for ground forces military.
Altitude is Everything
To meet the highly stringent military or commercial aerospace standards, Aerospace Avionics puts its components through many flight-worthy tests including environmental testing, shock and vibration testing, and temperature and humidity testing to simulate worst-case environments. For example, battery chargers must perform well at low temperatures (minus-40 degrees Centigrade) and proximity sensors operate over a wide temperature range (minus-55 to plus-232 degrees Centigrade). Another requirement is electromagnetic interference (EMI) testing to ensure that radiation emissions from equipment will not interfere with the operation of other systems. EMI is the reason passengers on commercial flights must turn off laptop computers and other electronic devices.
Some military components incorporate shielding against radiation, which enables them to withstand even a nuclear event. Aerospace Avionics’ overall goal is to ensure that the device fits into the form factor required by the customer.
Just as the company’s products integrate indispensably into an aircraft, its contribution is a perfect fit for Smiths Aerospace, part of Smiths Group PLC, the publicly held, London-based engineering firm that recently acquired Aerospace Avionics and its subsidiary, Lambda Novatronics. Started in 1851 by an English clockmaker, Smiths has adapted its instrument-based knowledge to the motor industry and ultimately to aviation. In December 1999, Aerospace Avionics added its crew of 250 mechanical assemblers, electronic assemblers, engineers and businesspeople to the Smiths organization of 15,000 in the United Kingdom, the United States and continental Europe. As a result, Aerospace Avionics stands ready to serve customers on an even higher plane.
Smiths has an array of products and offerings targeted at the aerospace community. The parent’s capabilities enable Aerospace Avionics to provide a higher level of assembly that includes additional functionality and software. Aerospace Avionics also taps the resources of the other Smiths groups to provide more complete solutions for its customers.
Aerospace Avionics embodies a philosophy of quality that translates into product excellence. The manufacturing capability vertically integrates the machine, sheet metal and magnetics shops; coatings laboratory; automated PCB component loading, soldering and cleaning operations; and environmental testing facilities.
Aerospace Avionics is ISO 9001-registered and silver-certified by Boeing as a preferred supplier. It’s also statistical process control-certified by Lockheed Martin, and Federal Aviation Administration-certified to serve the commercial airline industry.
The quality of the company’s products is managed in, not inspected in. A program manager oversees design and production for each project from conception to completion, translating customer requirements into internal manufacturing instructions. Aerospace Avionics’ use of total quality management techniques ensures continuous manufacturing process improvement. Its employees provide input and gather statistics to determine control limits, and establish root cause and corrective action to remedy any situation. This drives out costs as much as possible while maintaining product and process integrity.
Aerospace Avionics’ network of program manager, electrical engineer and mechanical engineer keeps the customer advised throughout the entire product development cycle to greatly reduce the time and risk in the process. It also ensures a reliable, working product at the end.