planes in the sky

“They’d refer to troubleshooting as ‘chasing gremlins,'” said Verlander, now an engineer with Boeing in Philadelphia. “In a lot of aviation fields, troubleshooting the electrical system can be a long and arduous task. Over the last few decades, aircraft have become more and more electronic with more components that can break. This is particularly difficult for private owners of aircraft, as they don’t have access to multiple spare electronic components at their disposal, or the financial resources to purchase multiple different parts.”

So Verlander devised a solution: the Electrical Diagnostic Tool Kit (ESDT), a system that offers owners and operators of the popular Cirrus SR22, a single-engine, four-or-five-seat aircraft, a way to quickly and accurately ascertain what problems their aircraft may be experiencing.

ESDT comprises a series of measurement gauges, processors, and a display that “interacts with the user and the aircraft to measure and determine where the problem in the electrical system is”, Verlander explains. “The system also collects the data measured, so that field service representatives or customer service support don’t have to retrace the owner’s steps.”

The owner can carry the kit with them, or simply store it in the aircraft so it is there when needed, Verlander said. The easy-to-use system guides the owner through the process of connecting it to the aircraft to take specific measurements and/or conduct the tests needed to diagnose the problem. And once the system pinpoints the issue, it instructs the owner on how to replace defective parts. In addition, ESDT captures the records required for the aircraft logbook, saving work for the aircraft owner and operator.

Before designing ESDT, Verlander interviewed numerous users and engineers familiar with the aircraft certification process to gain understanding of what kind of features and functionality would make her system easy to use and accessible to the average aircraft owner. She then developed an architecture for the system and, ultimately, a conceptual design that she believes could someday be marketed.

“While there is certainly a sizable private aircraft community, studies would have to be done on whether the potential market is large enough to cover the development costs for the systems”, she said.

The Systems Engineering program at Johns Hopkins Engineering regularly highlights the design projects and in-depth thesis research of its students. We will continue to make these presentations available so that they can benefit the entire systems engineering community.