ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tennessee —
Tasked with accelerating and improving the training of test engineers and test analysts, the 717th Test Squadron, 804th Test Group, Arnold Engineering Development Complex, offers a solution that could reach the entire complex.
Test engineers, or TEs, are responsible for coordinating and performing the test. Test analysts, or TAs, are responsible for analyzing and evaluating the data collected from the test. Both are key functions to successfully executing a test in one of the test cells operated by the 717th Test Squadron, or 717th TS, at Arnold Air Force Base. AEDC, headquartered at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee, with geographically separate units across the country, also has TEs and TAs in other units.
Prior to this effort, the time required to train a new employee from entry level to basic level for either position with the 717th TS was approximately two years.
Now an employee can be basic qualified in less than a year, a significant and significant time reduction for military TAs and TEs. They are usually stationed at Arnold AFB for about three years. As part of the previous timeline, they spent most of that time qualifying.
“We don’t want our military to sit for two years training,” said 717th TS Technical Advisor Steve Arnold. “We want them to get in there and cover the tests, understand how the facility works and evaluate the data collected from the tests. It’s more valuable career experience for military engineers if they get their hands dirty, so to speak.
In addition to streamlining training, TE and TA training have been combined for the entry level, giving new hires the opportunity to learn their preferences and increase common knowledge within the workforce. .
“Before, when you were hired straight off the street, you were given a niche as a test engineer or a test analyst,” Arnold said. “Coming out of college, you might not know exactly what the difference is. We have combined the study programs into a common training for test engineer and test analyst for the basic level. There are a lot of knowledge that should be common to both, but that was not in the previous training program.”
Once an employee is qualified at the basic level, they can decide whether to specialize as a TE or TA.
Previous teaching methods, primarily computer-based training, self-study, mentorship, and on-the-job training have also posed a challenge in accelerating timelines and assessing qualifications.
“One of the things that slows down our training at the entry level is just on-the-job training because you’re tied to whatever program is running during that time,” said Captain Brian Gatzke, former head of training for the 717th TS. “Last year after the outbreak of COVID we had very few engine trials and there was little opportunity for many people to get on the job training. COVID also prevented a mentor from looking over a trainee’s shoulder during a live motor test.
Even if an employee arrives when the tempo of test operations is high for the squadron, when everything is working well, as is the goal, the employee has little, if any, opportunity to learn in real time how to identify indicators of a significant problem.
A solution that would both remove dependency on the testing schedule, improve training quality and increase performance feedback was sought.
Arnold contacted the Data Solutions Group with a brief description of what he wanted in a training software application using real test data. Within a month, a prototype was developed, and within six months, software engineers delivered a product that runs on an enterprise system for test data acquisition, recording, and redistribution, or eSTARR, with further developments still in progress.
“It was fast; it was cheap; it was helpful,” Arnold said. “We haven’t realized the full benefits of it yet. help make things better.
During testing, TEs and TAs use the Real-Time Test Display System, or RealTDS, to display data acquired and stored in the eSTARR system. The training application uses this data recorded with RealTDS.
“eSTARR already had the capability to read test data, but the team had to modify the software to record that read data as if it were real-time,” said instrumentation expert Stephen Powell. , data and control data systems. “Normally the playback would be much faster than real time.”
Initially, simulations could only be run in the engine test facility computer room. In order to make it more accessible and not to monopolize stations in the computer room, Hanh Tran and Danna Pemberton, eSTARR software engineers, continued to work on enabling it to run on eSTARR systems on users’ desktop computers. Another capability they had to develop was to make RealTDS use computed data in an offline read mode.
Simulations allow playback at variable speeds, rewinding and completely stopping the simulation. They are also interactive to some degree. RealTDS has many different views from which users can view different data sources in different ways. Deciding which screens to use for a given test is one of the skills TEs and TAs need to learn.
“It’s a way to practice some skills offline,” Gatzke said. “We don’t have to be on the air to initiate these data reads and develop these skills, so when they finally get into the seat and we have airtime, they spend most of their time learning the relevant things about their job instead of understanding what different parameters mean and, for example, what an engine throttle looks like on a RealTDS display.You can get all of this from reading and going through the expensive broadcast hours to learn something a little more meaningful.
Simulations are also an opportunity to assess the trainee and practice exercises to build confidence.
“One of the simulations they had me run beforehand was really helpful for me to get familiar with the software before doing the real deal,” said Max Kreeb, a new test analyst with the 717th TS. and the first employee to use simulations for training. “That software was RealTDS, and it’s just one of the few programs we need to be familiar with in the data room during testing. Going through the exercise was really almost the same as using RealTDS in the data room.
The accelerated training program and simulations have already proven their worth, allowing military TEs to make meaningful contributions to a long-lasting test program.
“This new training program, using incoming Air Force officers, demonstrated how new recruits can go from being unaware of how the AEDC performs jet engine ground testing to air breathing at full capacity to be alone in their position in the control room,” said 1st Lt. Ryan Blount, current training chief for the 717th TS. “The accelerated mission tests conducted throughout 2021 are a perfect example of this. Twenty-five percent of the more than 1,000 engine hours during this test project were performed by military test engineers who had completed this accelerated training program. This is the first time that military engineers have been qualified to “fly solo” as TEs in the Propulsion Test Branch [now 717th TS].
“Now that management has confidence in the program, all new test analysts or test engineering personnel will follow this program to quickly gain an understanding of acquiring and reporting actionable data for our customers.”
Currently, all simulations are based on real test data, therefore scenarios are limited to situations that actually occurred during testing. Further development may allow scenario programming from scratch or a simulation that can be controlled on the fly.
RealTDS and eSTARR are used at multiple test facilities across Arnold AFB, making simulation-based training a possibility for other test units that wish to have scenarios generated from test data collected at their facilities.
The readout capability of training has been demonstrated for the test branch of hypersonic systems, which uses readouts to show test engineers and analysts what certain test events look like in different data streams.
The Hypersonic Systems Test Branch has also been working to reduce the baseline certification timeframe and was recently able to shorten it to less than six months for test analysts without using readings due to active testing. The new training capability will remove the dependency on the testing schedule.
“We will integrate testing capability and video recordings to allow our younger employees to relive and learn from our most engaging testing events with realistic scenarios,” said Jonathan Lister, senior testing analyst for the testing branch. testing of hypersonic systems.
Lister said reading ability also has value in helping test clients prepare.
“In our process, customers sit side-by-side with TEs and TAs overseeing the test,” Lister said. “They may need to manually trigger their test item, which gives us a critical capability to smooth communications and reduce our time. There comes a point in our test sequence where we are beyond the point of no return. Once we reach this line, we release a large amount of high pressure air. It is very important that we find the right time. The readings also give us this ability.
The intention of both units is to continue to develop the capability to be able to do real simulations with test scenarios developed to meet training needs which then respond to varying trainee changes.