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Tektronix oscilloscopes deliver accuracy, reliability and effectiveness to flight test and maintenance operations at Airbus

When it comes to carrying out testing and maintenance of aircraft equipment, there can be no room for error. Safety is paramount in applications of this nature and accurate, reliable and effective testing equipment can be the difference for ensuring high-quality aircraft with long lifetimes, such as Airbus Defence and Space’s Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role combat aircraft.

Tektronix 2 Series MSO being used to analyze an airbus 

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Airbus is known worldwide as a pioneer in designing, manufacturing and delivering innovative aerospace products, services and solutions, specifically for the commercial aircraft, helicopter, defence and space sectors, and is the largest aeronautics and space company in Europe and a worldwide leader.

In an engineering department dedicated to flight test, Airbus Defence and Space in Manching, Germany, works on instrumented prototype aircraft and instrumented production planes. Work carried out by the company also includes aircraft development and improvements over the lifetime. The role of the Flight Test Instrumentation (FTI) team is to contribute to safe and efficient flight tests to ensure correct and precise working of the instrumentation system.  

Airbus Defence and Space GmbH must ensure all on-board measurement devices deliver results that are accurate and reliable every time. The main focus is safety and there is no room for error, so Airbus needs to use the most advanced oscilloscopes on the market – and that’s where the partnership with Tektronix starts.

Accurate and reliable results every time

Having reliable and dedicated measurement tools in the laboratory and on site next to the aircraft is essential for designing, setting up and maintaining a plane’s flight test instrumentation systems. Airbus Defence and Space engineers must ensure an aircraft’s on-board measurement devices are capable of delivering accurate and reliable results every time.

For more than 20 years, the company has used Tektronix products in its laboratory, including a number of TPS digital storage oscilloscopes, a six-channel 6 Series MSO mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO66B) and the recently purchased 2 Series MSO portable scope (MSO22).

 Engineer configuring a 2 Series MSO for an airbus

“One day we might be doing bus analysis,” says Heiko Körtzel, Flight Test Instrumentation Engineer at Airbus Defence and Space GmbH, “the next day calibration of an analogue sensor, so we need to switch very quickly between tasks. We feel very comfortable with their human-machine interface and this was one of our main criteria when choosing Tektronix equipment… along with flexibility and accuracy, of course.”

Precise time synchronisation

Precise time synchronisation of a plane’s systems is absolutely vital, he says, and the MSO66B can highlight the slightest drift or misalignment. There is no room for error.

“We have two main focuses,” says Heiko, “the primary one being safety. The aircraft must be safe to operate on the ground and in the air and it is essential when carrying out tests that we get this right every time. The instrumentation system is one of the key sources of information on which the Flight Test Crew made their decisions while carrying out those flight tests. The second focus is flight test effectiveness because if a measurement error were to occur vital data will have been lost or invalid and the checks will have to be done again.”

Before a complex instrumentation system can be installed into a test aircraft, several tests have to be performed on such a measurement system. This includes, for example, the correct time synchronisation between all the sub-systems and propagation delays of timing signals on a nano-second level. Here the six-channel mixed signal oscilloscope MSO66B offers significant channel capacity paired with high resolution in time and amplitude. Another application is to test the instrumentation systems behaviour against various data bus errors which may occur on test aircrafts. For such tests bus protocol errors, or even physical bus errors, are simulated and induced into the instrumentation system while being monitored with a powerful oscilloscope. During the integration of an instrumentation system into an aircraft, supporting measurement needs to be performed and serve as a contribution to the instrumentation systems certification. Once the instrumentation system is in operation, quality checks, such as recalibrations with lightweight and easy-to-use oscilloscopes, are part of the tasks in the FTI team.

Multi-channel data bus decoding measurement

The MSO66B is normally located permanently in the laboratory while the 2 Series MSO is used for carrying out checks in situation near the flight test aircraft.

Among the key benefits for Airbus of using the 6 Series MSOs are its ability to offer multi-channel databus decoding measurement, as well as powerful performance with a high-quality display and intuitive user interface. Combined, these features simplify the process of tracing unique databus errors and identifying their root cause. The 2 Series MSO – the first ever fully-featured real-time touchscreen oscilloscope – was chosen because of its compact size (1.5 inches thick and weighing under 4 pounds) and large (10.1 inch) colour screen with 1280 x 800 resolution, that is as easy to read in bright sunlight as at night. With twin batteries, the scope can be used in the field for up to eight hours with even longer use made possible through hot-swapping. Another key beneficial feature for the 2 Series is the fact that not only does it use the same user interface as the 6 Series, therefore reducing any learning curve when moving from one class of oscilloscope to the other, it also has compatibility in terms of settings and measurement data, thus reducing testing and debug time.

Vast range of measurement tasks

The main challenge for the Airbus flight test laboratory is that it regularly has to carry out a vast range of measurement tasks. There are also many analogue measurement chains and technicians also have to deal with radio frequency (RF) technology and various telemetry tasks.

According to Heiko Körtzel, Flight Test Instrumentation Engineer at Airbus Defence and Space GmbH, the company recognised that it must have highly flexible oscilloscopes capable of being used in the widest possible range of measurement functions on an aircraft’s various sub-systems. The Airbus Team relies on Tektronix oscilloscopes to deliver accuracy, reliability and effectiveness for their flight test and maintenance operations.