ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – A worn-down station wagon wheezes its way up to an auto shop, its engine light on. A technician treads over to the damaged machine. Entering the car, he plugs in his scan tool allowing him to analyze the vehicle and pinpoint the ailments.
The process is similar for that of an aircraft when it needs repairs, but far more advanced. Instead of the fuse box in a car, aircraft have Line Replaceable Units and a method of troubleshooting unique to that system.
LRU’s are removable boxes, located in aircraft such as a B-1B bomber and many other aircraft, that perform crucial tasks. Although roughly the size of a microwave, LRU’s control numerous flight details, including radar, terrain following, radios, counter measures and wind speed. In order to repair these devices, maintainers need the right tools for the job.
“With the avionics systems on the B-1, there are a lot of different LRU’s,” said Capt. Nathan Stroupe, the avionics flight commander assigned to the 28th Maintenance Squadron. “Whenever they break on the aircraft, they are taken out by flightline [maintainers] and then brought here for repairs.”
Earlier this month, the avionics team at the 28th MXS received and signed off on its first Advanced Radar Electronic Warfare Test Station (ARTS) of the nine they will obtain in total. This is the first major upgrade to the Radar Electronic Warfare (REW) stations since they were first installed in the 1970’s.
REW stations consist of four six-foot towers of technology that are used by maintainers to troubleshoot all the different types of LRU’s they have the capability to repair.
“This is going to increase productivity and give us a smaller footprint in our shop as a whole,” said Staff Sgt. Zackery Noorlun, a radar electronic warfare team lead assigned to the 28th MXS. “This increase in production will keep B-1’s up in the air because they will have units to swap, decreasing the chance of damaged parts for any units that we run.”
The ARTS allow maintainers to be more agile and flexible in the workshop, using less power, generating less heat and is less than half the size of the current REW stations. The previous station takes longer due to its inability to configure to multiple LRU’s at once.
“It’s a pretty big deal for the Air Force,” Stroupe said. “We produced over 50 percent of every LRU in the B-1 bomber enterprise – which means everyone is looking at Ellsworth.”
For the LRU's that they cannot fix due to test station configuration limitations, the shop laterally moves the asset to the depot for an extensive overhaul or a base with the right configuration for repairs.
“[During the process], a technician will assess the LRU and check for any obvious damage,” Stroupe explained. “Afterward, they will do a diagnostic test on it by plugging it into the station; [Here] it will talk to the computer and assess where the LRU stands and see what’s wrong with it.”
With only nine REW stations, the maintenance squadron consistently changed the configuration as a result of the vast amount of different LRU’s they have the capability of repairing.
However, what the squadron can’t repair in their shop it ships to other bases that have the capability of doing so, and in turn slowing down the process.
With the new upgrade, this problem is eliminated. The ARTS is different in that it has the ability to easily and rapidly configure an LRU box due to its fast runtime – increasing the shop’s organic capability.
“It comes down to runtimes,” Noorlun said. “[With REW] we have LRU testing that will take hours upon hours, the ARTS system will shorten runtimes and isolate failures much more quickly.”
Noorlun mentioned though these stations tend to be complex and complicated, the new station is easy to use and easy to install.
“We carefully rolled it into our new staging area and plugged it in and turned it on, it was very simple, he said. “We had never seen it and we hooked it up and installed it within an hour. It was a very simple installation.”
With the nine current stations in the office, Airmen look forward to being able to add a more efficient machine to the shop to save time and space.
“Eventually all the old stations [will] get replaced and we will be a lot more flexible, it’s an exciting time,” Stroupe said. “I probably haven’t scraped five percent of what goes on back here, and I’ve been here for three months. It’s a lot to grasp. These guys do stuff that most people wouldn’t dream of.”