Air Force installs secure WLANs to streamline aircraft maintenance

There are few chores flight technicians like less than having to sit down and enter reams of maintenance reports into a computer system.

'I'm a retired aircraft maintainer. One of the things I couldn't stand was to have 20 pieces of paper in my pocket,' said Brian Sternberg, logistics integration superintendent at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

That's why Sternberg was pleased when the Air Force Special Operations Command awarded a contract to Telos Corp. of Ashburn, Va., to install a secure wireless local area network at Moody.

On the flight line

The first use of the network has been on the flight line, to let maintenance workers enter and retrieve information on the spot.

As mechanics work on planes, they use notebook PCs and handheld devices to immediately access maintenance records, order needed parts, even read maintenance manuals, Sternberg said.

'It's almost like how, when the police de- partment downtown has a vehicle stop, the officers type the license plate into the computer' in their cruiser and retrieve information on the vehicle and driver, he said. 'The base wireless LAN is just a smaller, scaled-down version of that.'

The reason for moving to the secure WLAN was to increase operational efficiency, cut down on aircraft repair time and shorten aircraft ground time, Sternberg said.

'The data accuracy will improve, the timeliness of the data will allow leadership to make better decisions,' he said.

Tom Badders, director of wireless networking at Telos, said the wireless LAN incorporates multiple layers of security.

The primary security feature is a border protection device that's a Layer 3 encryption device, certified by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to meet Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2, Badders said.

In addition, there is an authentication control system, an intrusion detection layer that monitors for rogue users or access points, he said.

The flight line technicians primarily access two systems: the Integrated Maintenance Data System (IMDS), where they record maintenance and logistics data, and the Standard Asset Tracking System, which tracks the location, condition and other vital information on planes and other assets, Badders said.

Moody AFB is just the latest of more than 65 Air Force bases where Telos has implemented secure wireless networks, he said. The company installed the same system at Hurlburt Field, Florida, he added.

Capt. Ray Tramposch, networks and systems branch chief at Moody, said the wireless networks at Moody and Hurlburt use the same type of WLAN equipment, but the bases are configured slightly differently. Both wireless networks meet IEEE 802.11b standards and are based on the Combat Information Transportation System architecture.

Long trail

'Between Moody and Hurlburt, more than 500 maintenance personnel will use this,' Sternberg said.

The server for the maintenance data system is not physically located on base, he said.

'We would log into the wireless network and go through it to get to the wired network,' he said.
'Then it would travel off base to the IMDS. ... It's kind of a long trail, but if the speed [on the network] stays there, we should get the same response time' as through the wired network.

While the new wireless network was specifically designed to support the flight line, Tramposch said, it has the potential to be expanded to other users and other existing applications and systems.

'We can scale [the system] as much as we need,' he said. 'The things we're buying right now are the main cost. ... Adding an access point at another facility on base would be pretty minimal' in expense.

Tramposch said installing the WLANs at Moody and Hurlburt cost each base approximately $1.4 million for the flight line coverage.

In addition to making information more timely, the point-of-maintenance software being used by the technicians was designed to reduce data entry headaches, moving from straight keystroke entry of information to using drop-down menus and populating fields based on selecting items, he said.

Another positive aspect of the WLAN program is that different functional areas are working together on the project, Tramposch said.

'It's a success story in that we have multifunctional communities working together,' he said. 'It's a good thing to see it happen and help these guys get their jobs done.'

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