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The Navy has developed new fiber-optic support equipment that will increase the reliability of aircraft avionics systems troubleshooting. The equipment will also save the Navy money by decreasing the number of aircraft avionics systems turned in for needless repair and recertification.

The Fiber Optic Common Support Equipment, or FOCSE, which began delivery to the fleet in early September, was developed by engineers in Naval Air Systems Command Aviation Support Equipment Program Office (PMA-260) at NAS Patuxent River. FOCSE allows technicians to check fiber-optic cables, reducing unnecessary replacement of functional avionics equipment.

"Prior to FOCSE, if we had a problem with a fiber-optic connected avionic component or system, we were often led to believe that something was wrong with the avionics," said Shane Campana, aircraft wiring integrated project team leader at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. "This system provides better fault-isolation techniques that work on all platforms and for all maintainers."

Fiber-optic systems have been used for years to replace cumbersome copper wiring and cables on everything from modern military aircraft to the wiring bringing cable TV into homes, however, the lighter and faster fiber-optic links require specialized systems to maintain them.

Creating consistency

Campana was among a team of engineers from Lakehurst and Pax River who developed the equipment from commercially available fiber-optic diagnostic components. Using modified commercial-off-the-shelf equipment, or COTS, Campana and his team made the kits more rugged, standardizing it with military labeling and implementing requirements to reduce foreign object and debris. The new kits consist of three component sets: the Fiber Optic Inspection System, the Fiber Optic Test Set, and the E-2D Fiber Optic Adapter Set.

Prior to the development of FOCSE, there wasn't much consistency in inspection or repair, said FOCSE's principal design engineer, Art Michon. Sometimes maintainers used a flashlight to see if light came through, but found that technique almost useless for finding typical problems, Michon said.

"There was no way to know exactly what was going on within a fiber-optic system [before FOCSE]," the engineer said. "The infrared light signals are not visible and unaided visual inspection was woefully inadequate."

Lack of inspection procedures and needless high replacement costs for the cable and electronics box prompted the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft platform to procure three sets of COTS Fiber Optic Support Equipment test kits as part of aircraft production, while PMA-260 worked on developing the FOCSE, Campana said. FOCSE will have a significant impact on the aircraft, which has an extensive network of fiber optics.

Reaping benefits

Beyond the E-2D, Campana said other naval aircraft will reap the benefits of FOCSE. Emerging aircraft platforms, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MQ-4 Triton and P-8 Poseidon, have already documented their fiber-optic maintenance requirements. Additionally, the MH-60S program recently used the PMA-260 contract to place an order for 23 additional FOIS and FOTSinspection and test kits, he said.

"As emerging avionics systems demand for speed and data throughput increases, we can expect further requirements and reliance for support of these systems," Campana said. "PMA-260 has laid the groundwork for support equipment in developing common items that can be used by all platforms. All that is needed is a platform unique adapter kit to mate the inspection and/or test equipment to the aircraft's peculiar requirement."