Engine sensors testbed being stood up in SL-1

An F404 engine is prepared to run in the Sea Level 1 Test Cell at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., Sept. 1, 2020. The F404 will be operated to determine the health of the engine and if it is suitable for use as an engine sensors testbed. (Air Force photograph by Jill Pickett)

Sea Level aeropropulsion test cells at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., headquarters of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, typically serve as testbeds to put engines through their paces from the relative safety of the ground.

But now in SL-1, a F404 engine is becoming the testbed.

This effort will provide engine sensor vendors the opportunity to test new hardware and techniques on a modern turbine engine.

Aeropropulsion technology lead for the AEDC Test Systems Branch, Bernie Williamson, commented that having an engine sensor testbed will benefit future fighter and bomber engines in development.

“This work is to improve future engine health monitoring, so as to improve the time between depot work, and lessen downtime for aircraft in the field,” Williamson said.

Currently, engineers are determining which of the three F404 engines, variants of which power the F/A-18 Hornet and the T-7A Red Hawk, will be used as the testbed. The selected engine will then be modified to accept additional instrumentation. Once completed, operation of the F404 will produce the environment needed to validate new sensors.

Planning for the program began in August 2019. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in being able to test the engines to determine the most suitable for the testbed.

“The team has been diligently working on this for more than a year, all of which are glad to finally see this testing come to fruition,” Williamson said.

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