News | Aug 14, 2017

How the Air Force is sifting through petabytes of old test data

The Arnold Engineering Development Complex partnered with a small business to search 50 years worth of technical data

News Article Image of How the Air Force is sifting through petabytes of old test data

TDAAS enables engineers to quickly gather test data, current and historical, that allows them to evaluate design and engineering processes for next-generation aerospace technologies (like the F135 engine pictured) more efficiently. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

A new information management system is giving Air Force engineers in Tennessee “Google-like” search capabilities through volumes of historic munitions and flight data.

Decades of testing, evaluation, and deployment of weapons and aerospace systems at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) had generated a massive variety of information.

But it was spread across different systems and in different formats leading to a long search at best and expensive, duplicative re-engineering testing and analysis at worst.

The Test Data Aggregation and Analytical System by the RJ Lee Group, an industrial forensics analytical lab in the Pittsburgh area, provided a solution.

“We’re taking away those weeks and months and giving them the information at their fingertips,” says Duane Conley, RJ Lee Group’s vice president of business development and customer relations.

The company used funding from the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to come up with the streamlined search function. (Plus, grew its business.)

And the system is “pure gold in terms of providing better human understanding and decision-making for test processes,” said Brandon Hoffman, an Air Force program manager at the test center.

Now the Air Force’s engineers can quickly locate the sources they need to make critical decisions about the design, development, deployment, and re-engineering of defense systems.

The project began in the early 2000s, when RJ Lee Group, located in the Pittsburgh area, used its first Air Force SBIR award to develop technology for the Air Force to track engine data.

Chief Architect Harlan Shober said in the years that followed, the company developed a system to access the data in real-time, using a federated architecture approach.

“We were looking at how to aggregate data from disparate data sources without having to add capabilities to all the existing systems,” Shober said.

Starting with a second SBIR grant in 2012 and followed by Rapid Innovation Fund support, the search prototype was developed to access the vast historical test data from wind tunnels and other test chambers at Arnold Air Force Base.

The extra funding allowed the prototype to mature, giving AEDC an operational system that could mine data from different sources, save it in its original format, and apply “big data” analytical searches.

During a demo, an on-the-spot question by AEDC leadership was resolved by a search that found the original source research paper from the 1960s that had been digitized and placed in an archived database.

“Nobody alive remembered that paper,” Conley said.

Troy Carter can be contacted at or 406-994-7798.

Headshot Image of Austin Leach, PhD, CLP

Is your business interested in one of these hot technologies?

Contact Us