New VDA Member, Defence Innovations Pty Ltd, wins Avalon Innovation Award 2019

A potentially game-changing wireless flight test instrumentation system won Australia’s prestigious Avalon 2019 National Defence Innovation Award at last month’s Avalon Airshow.

The wireless Non-Intrusive Flight Test Instrumentation system, or NIFTI, was developed by Melbourne SME Defence Innovations Pty Limited. Australia’s then-Minister for Defence Industry, The Hon. Steve Ciobo MP, presented the Award to the company’s chairman and NIFTI project lead, Mr Warren Canning, at Avalon 2019.    

NIFTI uses self-adhesive, self-powered sensors that can be applied quickly to any part of an airframe. These communicate wirelessly to a battery powered Data Acquisition Gateway mounted elsewhere in the aircraft.

After four years of development, the NIFTI system was handed over to the RAAF last year. The RAAF is the launch customer for NIFTI and developed the requirement for it in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence’s Science & Technology Group (DST). After being trialled initially aboard a RAAF PC-9A test platform, NIFTI passed a critical milestone earlier this year with a supersonic flight trial of the system aboard a classic F/A-18 Hornet at RAAF Williamtown.

NIFTI was designed to be a game-changer by reducing significantly the cost and time required to prepare an aircraft for a flight test campaign, according to Mr 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.”

NIFTI enables a test pilot or a flight test engineer aboard the aircraft to 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.

Traditionally, test aircraft were either permantly equipped with flight test instrumentation, meaning they were unavailable for operational service, or aircraft were removed from squadron or civilian service specifically for a test campaign. They would be fitted with internal 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 completely changes the costs and therefore the business model for flight test and training organisations, says Mr Canning. The savings when compared to the opportunity costs of having a multi-million dollar platform on the ground for an extended period whilst being fitted with legacy flight test instrumentation will 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 adds.