The wireless Non-Intrusive Flight Test Instrumentation system, or NIFTI, developed by Melbourne SME Defence Innovations, won the prestigious Avalon 2019 National Innovation Award at last month’s Avalon Airshow.
Then-Minister for Defence Industry Steve Ciobo presented the award to the company’s chairman and project lead Warren Canning.
The NIFTI system was handed over to the RAAF formally during DST’s Scindicate 2018 event in Melbourne last year. It uses self-adhesive, self-powered sensors that can be applied to any part of an airframe. These communicate wirelessly to a battery powered Data Acquisition Gateway mounted elsewhere in the aircraft.
RAAF is the launch customer for NIFTI and developed the requirement in partnership with DST Group.
NIFTI passed a critical milestone earlier this year with a supersonic flight trial of the system aboard an F/A-18 Hornet at RAAF Williamtown. The aircraft was fitted with stick-on sensors and a Data Acquisition Gateway in a little over four hours; it then completed two successful supersonic test flights. The NIFTI equipment was removed in 45 minutes to allow the aircraft to return to squadron service and fly a normal training mission later that same day.
Defence Innovations and the RAAF are now examining new applications for NIFTI, according to Canning. These include incorporating time, space and position information for air combat manoeuvre and air-to-air refuelling trials and training, and precision Inertial Measurement Units for stores release trials.
Control stick position and force measurement, a staple of flight testing, is another area for exploration.
NIFTI was designed to reduce the cost and time required to prepare an aircraft for a flight test campaign, according to Canning.
“This is a real problem for both manufacturers and operators of military and civil aircraft, as well as for the schools that train our future test pilots and flight test engineers,” Canning said.
The test pilot or a flight test engineer aboard the aircraft can monitor the flight and completion of specific test points in real time using an iPad Mini. The Data Acquisition Gateway is modular and can be mounted wherever space permits - including inside dummy AIM-120 AMRAAM or Hellfire missiles.
NIFTI includes a variety of sensor types along with nodes where a test sensor such a strain gauge has already been installed. The NIFTI sensors can store up to 4 hours of test data for later download if security demands or if the test aircraft is unable to accommodate the Data Acquisition Gateway.
Traditionally, test aircraft are either permanently equipped with flight test instrumentation, meaning they are unavailable for operational service, or aircraft are removed from squadron or civilian service specifically for a test campaign. They would be fitted with internal flight test sensors connected to a data acquisition and power system by a heavy and complex wiring loom. Modifying and then de-modifying the aircraft could take weeks, or longer.
The ability to conduct complex tests quickly and cheaply changes the costs and therefore the business model for flight test and training organisations, Canning said. The savings could potentially pay for a NIFTI system in one flight test campaign.
The potential uses of NIFTI include flight testing of aircraft, helicopters and drones, along with manned and unmanned boats, submersibles and vehicles, ranging from main battle tanks to racing cars, he added.
The company is fielding export enquiries but declined to elaborate.