Air Force, small business partner develop a ‘big data’ bridge between past and future designs

Air Force photograph by Rick Goodriend

The mission of the United States Air Force is “to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.”

Perhaps more than any other time in history, the United States is faced with much more varied and much less predictable sources of conflict, as well as greater uncertainty in the amount of defense spending available to mitigate these conflicts. In response to these challenges, it is critical to find ways to provide an effective, efficient and reduced acquisition lifecycle.

To this end, validation of aerospace components is critical since the failure of a component in the field can result in the loss our warfighters or their aircraft. Engine and flight stakeholders need to be able to quickly and reliably make accurate assessments related to specific component behavior. To do this they need “real decision enabling information” rather than just volumes of data. 

To help transform acquisition programs that benefit the movement of research and development projects to operational assets, RJ Lee Group (RJLG) developed the Test Data Aggregation and Analytical System (TDAAS) with funding provided by the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program. The technology makes vast, disparate archives of scientific and engineering information readily available to drive real-time, knowledgeable decisions. With Google-like speed, TDAAS quickly locates the data needed to answer difficult questions driving design, development and deployment of defense systems. 

Additionally, with continual increases in analytical capabilities from more data and more analyst interaction results, TDAAS provides the opportunity to perhaps completely eliminate re-engineering costs. TDAAS has effectively reduced finding test data and related documents from months to minutes and allows for hundreds more analysis iterations due to its speed of finding new information.

“With more than 50 years of systems and component test data, Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) leadership recognized the uniqueness and amount of data and meaningful research at their fingertips. Data on multiple iterations of weapons systems of all types, if data-mined in real-time with ever improving data algorithms, could lead to significant reductions in the reengineering costs of current and future weapons programs,” said program manager Brandon Hoffman. “This is pure gold in terms of providing better human understanding and decision making for test processes.”

TDAAS enables engineers to quickly gather test data, current and historical, that allows them to evaluate design and engineering processes for next-generation aerospace technologies (like the F135 engine pictured) more efficiently.

With test data at AEDC test facilities exceeding a petabyte in size and spread across countless unrelated databases, engineers are increasingly challenged to provide accurate and insightful analysis in a timely manner. Improved searching and data correlation capabilities and processes are needed to better identify and discover meaningful information about turbine engine propulsion, aerodynamics of systems and ordinances, and space systems.  

“Every day, scientist, engineers, and analysts have to rely on human memory and are often not able to find the information from a similar test or are unable to trust the prior test result do to a lack of complete documentation and this leads to them doing new testing and analysis which increases sustainment costs,” Hoffman said. “It is no secret that across the DOD there is a great need to collect, index and link this type of information together in a way that provides meaning to future or derived works as currently the DOD has very limited ability to share much less discover data across multiple locations and sources. TDAAS enables the ability to connect to these multiple locations and sources making all of the information searchable without changing the data’s original location or owner.”

Dr. Klaus Schug, a chief architect at Arnold AFB, said, “TDAAS has increased the amount of information accessible by allowing individuals to add their own data and analysis results directly into TDAAS for access to all analysts. The potential for the elimination of billions of dollars of reengineering costs through the application of past lessons learned is one of the best value propositions for the value of AEDC to the DOD.”

The success of the SBIR led to additional funding through a Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) program contract for RJLG to mature the TDAAS prototype to an operational production system. At completion of the RIF contract in early 2016, RJLG will have helped transition TDAAS to production at AEDC, providing users with the best and most complete understanding ever of weapon systems cost, design and performance, and the optimum tradeoffs of these three.

Dr. Edward Kraft, chief technologist and scientist at Arnold AFB, Tennessee, said, “The successful use of RIF funds to fully implement and demonstrate TDAAS at AEDC is a precursor to more expansive applications of the TDAAS capabilities. It will be evaluated as a potential search capability for an Air Force Test Center knowledge management capability under initial development. TDAAS also has potential as a tool for managing technical data in the Air Force Digital Thread in support of the broader Air Force Engineering Knowledge Management system.”

Based on technology achievements and demonstrations during the TDAAS development, RJLG was also able to secure additional funding to expand the technologies to help the Air Force create a 21st Century Digital Thread Infrastructure. This separate initiative is focused on identifying and expanding technologies that can help capture and maintain material and other scientific data along the entire cradle-to-grave (or cradle-to-cradle) life-cycle of a component.