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Instrumentation technicians – the ones behind the scenes of testing at Arnold

Gage Seals and Terry Bush, instrumentation technicians at Arnold Air Force Base, clean part of the Tunnel A nozzle at the von Kármán Facility. Periodic maintenance of the facilities is one of the many duties of an instrumentation technician’s duties at Arnold. (U.S. Air Force photo by Deidre Ortiz)

Gage Seals and Terry Bush, instrumentation technicians at Arnold Air Force Base, clean part of the Tunnel A nozzle at the von Kármán Facility. Periodic maintenance of the facilities is one of the many duties of an instrumentation technician’s duties at Arnold. (U.S. Air Force photo by Deidre Ortiz)

Teddy Beddingfield, an instrumentation technician for the von Kármán Facility at Arnold Air Force Base, checks one of the data panels in Wind Tunnel A. (U.S. Air Force photo by Deidre Ortiz)

Teddy Beddingfield, an instrumentation technician for the von Kármán Facility at Arnold Air Force Base, checks one of the data panels in Wind Tunnel A. (U.S. Air Force photo by Deidre Ortiz)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Instrumentation technicians, or ITs, are individuals who install, service, troubleshoot and perform preventative and predictive maintenance functions on equipment.

Duties of an IT also include testing, calibrating, installing, repairing and inspecting monitoring devices.

ITs are essential personnel to Arnold Air Force Base because they are the ones who prepare the test facilities for an upcoming test, assist in monitoring the facility and troubleshooting problems during testing, and once testing is completed, they assess the equipment and fix any issues.

Jon Guertin, the director of Flight Branch for the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor, explained that the role of an IT is important to ensuring that a test will run smoothly.

According to Guertin, there are 38 ITs working within the Flight Combined Test Force at Arnold, which is made up of the Propulsion Wind Tunnel and von Kármán test facilities.

“Big picture is that the ITs are the ones who set up the test data and apparatus and make sure that it’s working so that during a test the customer is getting the data needed,” he said.

Guertin further emphasized the importance of test data being collected accurately and the part the ITs play in this.

“Data collection is critical to what we do at AEDC, and the test data is reliant upon how capable our ITs are,” he said.

Clarence Rogers, a craft superintendent at Arnold, said the ITs make up half of the skilled craftsmen at VKF.

“It’s a mix of machinists and instrumentation technicians,” he said. “Our instrumentation technicians provide support in the control room and test support with instrumentation in Tunnels A, B, C, D and ACL.”

Currently the ITs at the von Kármán Facility are working on an upgrade to tunnel operations, which is being headed by Michael Hamby. But when not assisting with upgrades, they are performing periodic maintenance, or preparing with model installation prior to testing.

“We’re in charge of connecting all the instrumentation that goes through the model,” said Teddy Beddingfield, an IT at VKF. “We also hookup panels and when test engineers write a program, we implement that program.”

Though ITs work closely with machinists and other craft, Beddingfield mentioned that their roles are different.

“We all have different roles,” he said. “An instrumentation technician’s role is to ensure all instrumentation is functioning properly and being displayed in the control room.”

When running a test the ITs are also in charge of temperature and pressure sensors.

“No two models are the same,” Beddingfield said. “That’s what I like most about the job. The wiring and the installation. Making sure that everything works and being entrusted that it will be operational.”

Gage Seals, an intern working with the ITs at VKF, mentioned he has enjoyed the work because it’s so hands on.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning about the testing AEDC does and also being able to physically work on something instead of just learning about it in a classroom setting,” he said.

Ashely Schultz, the chief steward of the ITs at Arnold, who primarily oversees the ITs for plant operations for the Turbines CTF, added that ITs deal with data on valves, controlling the valves and managing temperature and pressures and measuring vibrations.

“You have to be very exact in some aspects,” he said. “On certain conditions you can only be off by 1 percent. Others, it’s okay if you’re within at least 5 percent of where you need to be.”

But, when it comes to data, Schultz reiterated what Guertin said.

“Test data has to be spot on accurate,” he said. “Checks on plant conditions are more extensive when a test article is involved, and we go to great lengths to make sure that everything goes smoothly.”
Schultz explained that plant-side sets conditions for the engine test cells.

“Part of this means monitoring machines and working with the engineers who track the tests,” he said.

One might think that once an engine is set up in the test stand and instrumentation is hooked up, that’s where the job of an IT ends. However, Schultz explained this is not the case.

“We’re needed for the entirety of the test,” he said. “We watch what the equipment is doing during test or if we’re on call. If anything happens and there’s an issue, we’re the ones that have to get the equipment back up and running.

“When a test is over, if there’s anything needing attention, we have to come up with a plan on ‘how do we get ready to run again?’ So before the test, during and after – we’re really critical to the whole thing. I can’t imagine a test being successful without the ITs.”