Australian Military Reduces Costs Two-Thirds with NI Test System

10/16/2002 - National Instruments announced that the Australian military is saving two-thirds on measurement component costs using an NI-based virtual instrumentation system to test its entire fleet of Black Hawk helicopters. The system, which also slashed testing time from months to weeks, has proven so successful the Royal Australian Army, Air Force, and Navy soon will expand their use of NI LabVIEW software and PXI hardware to determine safe operation of other types of helicopters.

The NI-based system, known as the Airborne Data Acquisition and Recording System (ADARS), identifies safe landing procedures for its Black Hawk helicopters by measuring vital information such as rotor speed, air speed, aircraft position, and engine torque as pilots land in various weather and sea conditions. During test landings onboard amphibious troop transport ships, the system analyzes and logs flight data from the helicopter's navigation and avionics systems. Military officials then use this data to determine proper landing techniques that all Black Hawk helicopter pilots should follow. The test program has been so successful, the military plans to build additional ADARS units to determine landing procedures for its fleet of Sea King and Sea Hawk helicopters.

"ADARS' ability to adapt from one type of aircraft to another, along with its low cost, high-performance, and the solid support from NI, made it a superior test solution when compared to alternative, expensive proprietary test components," said Steve Blandford, an Australian military senior avionics design engineer assigned to the Black Hawk project. "Because LabVIEW runs on a modular PXI architecture, we can quickly reconfigure our test system simply by plugging in different PXI modules. For example, we originally did not intend to acquire live video from the cockpit, but added that capability by plugging in an NI image acquisition module and programming it with the LabVIEW development environment that controls our other measurements."

Because the PXI system is both compact and durable, it resides onboard a Black Hawk test helicopter. The test system is comprised of a PXI controller and chassis containing a multifunction data acquisition module, an input/output module, an image acquisition module, and a counter/timer module. Together, they acquire digital and analog signals from various onboard sensors, including strain gauges, RTDs, thermocouples, a linear position transducer, a GPS receiver, and as many as four cameras.

In June 2000, an emergency evacuation of Australian citizens from the Solomon Islands took place involving the HMAS Manoora troop transport ship and Australian Army Black Hawk helicopters. Flight test data acquired using NI equipment made operation of the Black Hawks possible, Blandford said.

About National Instruments
National Instruments leverages commercial technologies, such as industry-standard computers and the Internet, to deliver customer-defined measurement and automation solutions. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, NI has more than 2,900 employees and direct operations in 37 countries. NI increases the productivity of engineers and scientists worldwide by delivering easy-to-integrate software and modular hardware. In 2001, the company sold products to more than 24,000 different companies in more than 60 countries around the world. For the past three consecutive years, FORTUNE magazine has named NI one of the 100 best companies to work for in America.

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