Squadron gets new lab space to improve instrumental role in test mission

Edwards and 812th Aircraft Instrumentation Test Squadron leadership pose for the ceremonial ground breaking photo Dec. 3, 2018, inside Bldg. 1600 where a new 812th AITS Special Instrumentation Diagnostics Engineering and Calibration Lab will be constructed. Pictured from left to right: Randy Beckett, 412th Civil Engineer Group retired deputy base civil engineer; James Judkins, 412th CEG director and base civil engineer; Richard Backs, 412th Test Wing Plans and Programs; Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert, 412th TW commander; Alan Colthorp, 812th AITS director; and John Bennett, Modular Management Group chief operations officer.

Data collection is the number one goal in flight test.

With that said, squadrons at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., cannot take just any plane out of the air and conduct flight test missions. They have to be specially instrumented to record and transmit data during test sorties. This means taking planes apart for equipment installation, or modifying them with sometimes custom-made devices.

This is the mission of the 812th Aircraft Instrumentation Test Squadron, which just started building a new place to work Dec. 3, 2018.

The 412th Maintenance Group held a “ground breaking” ceremony for the 812th AITS Special Instrumentation Diagnostics Engineering and Calibration (SIDEC) Lab in Bldg. 1600. The new lab should serve as a one-stop shop where technicians and engineers can plan, build and repair instrumentation equipment.

“The overarching purpose of this lab is to support the engineering effort of the Special Instrumentation division,” said Douglas Pilcher, 812th AITS electronics technician. “We do this through diagnostic, engineering and calibration support.  We are the first to turn on newly designed data collection equipment.  We help program data acquisition systems.  We create the information panels that mount on the front of the instruments.  We repair instruments that have broken while in the field.”

According to Pilcher, a large benefit of the new lab is consolidation of the different work areas within the 812th AITS. The 412th MXG’s Bldg. 1600, adjacent to Hangar 1600, is big — so big that it has street names for its corridors.

“The lab will be at the corner of Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue,” Pilcher said. “The functions that will be contained in the new lab are all in separate locations now throughout Bldg. 1600. Currently the individual functions are separated by more than 100 yards.”

The new lab aims at making it easier for all the different instrumentation functions to work together.

“Due to the large distance between labs, it is difficult to work as a unit. With almost every new piece of equipment or system, the functions of all three labs are needed. It takes a lot of time to travel between labs before a single piece of equipment is ready to be installed on an aircraft,” said Pilcher.

He added with the current separation, it is difficult to share equipment and moving “delicate laboratory equipment” back and forth can increase the risk of damage.

Additionally, the lab will have a new capability in an environmental chamber, which can simulate temperature and altitude. 

“More than any of that, this is a lab from the ground up,” Pilcher said. “We are currently working in converted office space. The new lab will provide a cleaner, better environment with better temperature control.”

The new lab should provide a more comfortable and efficient area for one of the most important aspects of the Edwards mission.  

“Without the functions provided by the SIDEC lab, there would be no test,” Pilcher said. “Without it we couldn’t provide what the test engineers need — data. It’s the equipment and expertise we provide that allows any of the aircraft here at Edwards to collect the data necessary to provide a better tool to the war fighter.”

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