By Bryanne Whatley
Lightning fast maneuvers, barrel rolls and extreme speeds make it difficult for the U.S. military to collect data from test flights of new fighter jets.
The numerous test flights, performance checks and off-site evaluations required to ensure the jet is safe, are costing the government more than it should.
In hopes of finding a solution, the Department of Defense has awarded BYU?s engineering department $1 million in grant money to continue existing research in air-to-ground telemetry and develop technology that will effectively capture and process test flight data.
?The government has been searching a long time for a solution,? said Michael Rice, an electrical and computer engineering professor. ?We are very excited and confident that our solution will solve their problem.?
Previously, the military has relied on radio wavelengths broadcast to an antenna attached to the bottom of the aircraft to capture incoming data from the trial flights.
According to a BYU press release, when the jet would perform certain maneuvers, such as barrel rolls or inverted turns, the antenna would lose connection with the ground receivers and data would be lost. The jet would then have to be refueled, the pilot and test team reassembled, and the mission re-flown to acquire the missing data.
In a second attempt to try and solve the problem, the military added another antenna to the top of the jet. But then the data receiving equipment was faced with too much information being transmitted and one antenna?s data interfering with the other, according to the press release.
Rice and Michael Jensen, also a professor of electrical engineering, along with graduate students Tom Nelson and Adam Anderson, have been working on developing a software program that will solve the military?s data capturing problem.
An easy solution would be to transmit the same signal on two radio channels so the information would not interfere. However, such a solution would not be the most effective use of radio frequencies and available bandwidth, Jensen said.
?The government has basically said to the test and evaluation community: ?you are wasting spectrum, you need to be more efficient?,? Jensen said.
Rice and Jensen?s solution is to transmit a different signal from each antenna and give the two signals different mathematical relationships, which would enable the receiver to recognize the information as separate signals.
Nelson, 36, now working on a Ph.D in engineering, has been creatively involved for the past two years in helping test data algorithms.
?You have to figure out the difference of arrival between the two signals, which took a lot of calculating and recalculating,? Nelson said.
Original work for the telemetry project was done on a computer that simulated everything.
Last June the team took their research, put it in an airplane, and did a real-time flight-test. Back in the lab, the data was run and the program worked.
Now with the support and funding of the DOD grant, the team is working to build an actual software program that can be used with the military?s equipment.
Grants of this size to aid research are not uncommon at BYU, but what makes this one different is the potential for the results to be marketed commercially, Jensen said.
?When we typically get a grant to do basic research, our results are taken and we publish papers,? Jensen said. ?In this case we are building the basic product.?
Telemetry research done by BYU is gaining more than the interest and support of the government.
At the International Telemetering Conference in October 2004, Jensen, Rice, Nelson and graduate Adam Anderson were awarded the Best Paper Award for a coauthored abstract about their research and government project.