IoT goes airborne with the RAAF

The Internet of Things is exploding with more and more technology being augmented with the ability to capture and transmit data about its performance and surroundings. Wireless technology and sensors are at the forefront of this and we’ve been applying our experience in some very interesting places recently. In this particular example, 25,000 ft in the air.

The RAAF needs to ensure all aircraft are tested and certified for service, the problem with this currently is that they either need aircraft permanently or they take them out of service to run tests. The tests are carried out by installing wired sensors and recorders within the airframe itself which can take weeks, resulting in costly periods of inactivity for the aircraft. To combat this, the RAAF have been investigating novel ways to reduce time and cost for this activity, which is where we came in.

Over the past couple of years we’ve been developing a system called NIFTI (Non-Intrusive Flight Test Instrumentation). It’s a set of wireless sensors and software that can capture data during flight and make it available for analysis. Now, instead of taking 5 days to install a wired system to collect data the aircraft could be ready to go in 4 hours. Not a bad saving, but this solution was not without its challenges…

A harsh environment

We’ve designed connected equipment and systems for the mining industry which had to be pretty rugged, but this was a different kettle of fish entirely. There could be up to 10 sensors attached to the plane at various points which all have to stay put in order to be accurate, you can see one of them attached to the tail fin in the picture below. In addition the sensors need to withstand significant speed, high shock G-forces and also not create unsatisfactory electromagnetic interference. Oh yes, and everything had to stand up to military grade testing!

A flying sensor network

The core principle of the system is an array of sensors, each of which can transmit data back to a central point. The sensors don’t require line of sight with the central recorder in order to transmit the data they’re collecting, which is important as it makes the system adaptable to any aircraft. The sensor units are robust, aerodynamic and more than happy to be exposed to the repeated stress of flying through the air at high speed.

What’s next?

We’re proud of the NIFTI solution and were excited to see it successfully pass a number of flight trials recently. The next stage of work will see the system being applied to multiple aircraft, large and small which could even see our IoT solution go supersonic. Now there’s a challenge.