Like many of you, I enjoy history and staying
abreast of current events. From time to time I’ll read something or see a TV
report and tell myself, ‘wow, I don’t
think that commentator understood the significance of what just happened; a
tick mark in history just occurred.’
In this prose I hope to share some events which to some may seem routine
or minor, but that nonetheless are significant, understated ‘firsts’, and
‘Apps’ for Aircraft Operating Systems:
For those of you who have read my blog titled
“Autonomic Logistics”1, you’ll notice that I make mention of the
fact that the F-35 is being fielded with many technologically advanced systems,
which, as is usual for advanced military systems, will find their way trickling
down to civilian applications. And so it is with what’s being metaphorically characterized
as installing an app on the Aircraft Operating System; yup, just like on your smart phone.
Your iPhone has an operating system called iOS. It
runs everything and hosts all the apps you install. For the F-35, the
equivalent of the iOS is called OMS, Open Missions System. Israel will be the
first country to install its own proprietary ‘app’ consisting of highly
customized C4 (Command, Control, Communication, Cyber) and Electronic Warfare applications
peculiar to its own national needs. Facilitating all this is the aircraft’s
open-architecture software design by Lockheed2; another significant first.
Industry users of airborne software have long clamored for open-architecture
systems, and here it will debut on this aircraft. Writers of history will
chronical that the first use of open-architecture software and ‘apps’ onboard aircraft
operating systems occurred on the F-35. It won’t be long before the collateral
‘issues’ (such as who owns and controls the distribution rights of the apps) triggered
by this new way of operating are settled and standardized, and it finds its way
onboard new commercial designs, with airlines being offered ‘apps’ for
Software issues caused crash of A400M
As a self-proclaimed ‘avionics geek’ I distinctly
recall those heady days of aviation when microprocessors started showing up in
Avionics ‘boxes’. As a bench technician, when I started working on the first
generation of Ground Proximity Warning Systems (GPWS) with microprocessors in
them, I thought I was hot stuff. It took time but I learned a hard lesson: I
could fix hardware problems, but not software problems. It turns out those
early models exhibited many nuisance warnings to the aircrew, which were then written
up by the pilots - the GPWS subsequently removed and replaced by flight line
technicians - and the subsequent shop findings (me), repeated No Faults Found.
In fact many of those units ended up on chronic removal programs, but had no
failures! It took time to discover it was
really the software, not the hardware, which was causing the removals! This
got fixed over time by the OEM and follow-on product evolutions.
Today nearly every major system on board modern
commercial aircraft is run by software; it dominates aircraft design, and is a
major challenge for the integrators of an aircraft’s various systems. Because
of this, a recent headline got my attention: “Airbus: Software Caused A400M Crash.”3 If so, this is
the first time I’m aware of that a software issue was at fault for the loss of
In the past, pilot’s unfamiliarity with how software runs the aircraft
contributed to accidents, but the software itself was not at fault. In fact,
software development for airborne applications is understandably subjected to
very high standards of Quality Control with safety considerations commensurate
with the criticality of the application. RTCA DO-178 is commonly cited as thee standard by which to develop such
software. In my opinion, although this was a ‘first’, the lessons will be
learned, and reoccurrences rare.
Faulty soldering cited as root cause in aircraft
The typical commercial aircraft easily has thousands
of solder connections, mostly within the many Electronic boxes found throughout
the aircraft. Every chip, transistor, diode, capacitor, inductor, transformer,
and resistor is soldered into place. As any bench technician knows, faulty
solder joints are a common reason for outright or intermittent failures.
Many decades ago, NASA recognized that soldering
needed to be raised to a higher level of craftsmanship in order to prevent such
failures which had the potential to strand astronauts in space; this simply
would not be tolerated. NASA created a standard for soldering (NASA-STD-8739.3)
and imposed the standard on its suppliers in order to attain the highest possible
level of component reliability. Persons performing soldering had to be
‘certified’ as conforming to the standard, and if you met this standard you
were a craftsman indeed. The NASA standard was subsequently replaced by IPC-J-STD-001,
commonly called the “J” Standard in the industry. Today, many manufacturers and
repair stations use this standard to train their technicians, and the standard
is referred to in many contracts as a document that must be followed. There are
other standards which accomplish the same.
Knowledge of all this grabbed my attention when it
was determined that the root cause cited in the crash of an Air Asia aircraft
with fatalities to all aboard, was initiated by a faulty solder joint4.
This too is a ‘first’ as far as I know; that the faulty solder joint directly
contributed to loss of life.
As of this writing, it has not been made publicly known
if the faulty solder joint occurred during the manufacturing process or during
a repair, but suffice it to say, manufacturers and repair stations should
re-examine the vigor of their soldering systems and/or training, and use this
unfortunate occurrence as a poster child for improvement efforts.
collision with a drone
It had been initially reported that a British
Airways flight on approach had collided with a drone, but that has since been
discounted. Regardless, many continue to worry about this inevitability, and if
it occurs, mark it in your history books.
Over ‘n out
Roy ‘Royboy’ Resto
for the F-35, Has Israel set a precedent?; Aviation Week & Space Technology;
April 25-May 8, 2016; Page 22