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Howell Instruments founder John S. Howell III was a decorated U.S. military pilot with the keen mind of an inventor, returning home after the Second World War with an idea that would forever change how mechanics tested aircraft engines.
Howell, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war, designed and patented the JETCAL® Analyzer, a device that lets technicians test the temperature indicating system of a Convair B-36 bomber without removing the engine from the aircraft.
It was a revolutionary product, reducing operating costs and eliminating hundreds of maintenance hours. It was also an example of the innovative spirit and brilliant design that have persisted at Howell Instruments ever since.
“Every day, I challenge my team to be thinking leading-edge,” said Arthur “Shep” Brown, CEO of Howell Instruments. “What can we do better and newer?
“Today, we provide monitoring on all kinds of advanced gas turbine engines, and we plan to do so in the years to come.”
One of the company’s most exciting new ventures is its state-of-the-art data acquisition system (DAS) for single-engine rotorcraft from MD Helicopters.
The system provides precise in-flight engine data in an easy-to-use, all-glass format to enhance both pilot safety and performance.
“We are excited about this partnership with Howell and the opportunity to deliver advanced technologies and enhanced aircraft to MD operators worldwide,” said Andy Pillado, vice president of sales and marketing at MD Helicopters.
“Upgrading to the all-glass cockpit will provide a platform baseline for a range of future performance enhancements for our single-engine fleet.”
Howell Instruments’ DAS is the product of decades of research, engineering and innovation, and–like the company itself–the system is inherently flexible.
The DAS can consist of any or all of the following components: data acquisition units; display units; a configuration module unit; and a data logger unit.
“If the customer wants a standalone system, we provide a complete turn-key data acquisition and display system,” said Brown.
“If they want us to partner with, say, another OEM because they may already have part of their system, we can then partner with them as a Tier Two supplier.
“We’re flexible, and based on our history and capability we’re extremely reliable and affordable.”
While MD Helicopters is the launch customer for the DAS, Howell Instruments is in talks with other OEMs to provide it as standard equipment on new helicopters and certified as a retrofit option.
“Our goal is to talk with each and every OEM,” said Brown. “The data acquisition system on a gas turbine engine is applicable to both rotary-wing and fixed-wing.”
The software in Howell Instruments’ DAS is also certified to the highest possible standard: DO-178B design assurance Level A. It’s a crucial feature that demonstrates the company’s ability to break new ground when it comes to accuracy and reliability.
“This is really the gold star for us in this case,” said Brown. “It’s obviously the best that you can achieve.”
Accuracy is essential for engine data because it helps ensure the safety of passengers, pilots, and the aircraft itself. If an engine runs beyond safe parameters, its lifespan will be shortened at best, and the risk of sudden, catastrophic failure is quite real.
“When dealing with data acquisition on [a] gas turbine–accuracy, repeatability is everything,” said Brown. “It pretty much ensures safety of flight, provides accurate data for maintenance and life-cycle management.
“Therefore, why would the customer not want to use the industry expert in gas turbine data acquisition for their on board, real-time engine information–which is what the new system is for?”
Accuracy, flexibility and reliability are hallmarks of the Howell Instruments DAS. They’re also part of what helps define Howell Instruments as a company.
“Our strengths are our agility, our flexibility and our experience,” said Brown.
“Because we are a small company, we can build two units–two systems specific to a small operator. But we have the space and the capacity and the staff to expand to produce 100 or more, if it would be required … customized solutions are what we’re all about.”
Howell Instruments’ DAS is available now, and its open architecture allows for customized solutions that significantly reduce the time to market.
“If you go from a single-engine to a twin-engine helicopter we can do that with the same box that we already have certified–with minor changes,” said Bill Milton, vice president of business development.
“Which means you’re looking at a very small time to get it certified and on your aircraft.”
Unique solutions are another hallmark of Howell Instruments, a company with the ability to work with aircraft of any age, and with any gas turbine engine. The company will design and custom-build engine indicators to meet any operator’s needs.
“It’s not just engine information we’re processing,” said Milton. “It’s engines, it’s CAS messaging, it’s fuel quantities … it’s pressures. We’re even doing flight control position indication in some configurations.”
As for what lies ahead, Howell Instruments is focused on continuing to break new ground when it comes to gas turbine engine monitoring, staying true to the innovative spirit that its founder, John S. Howell III, had from the very start.
“Howell started data acquisition on the first commercially available jet engine, and we continue to be the right solution for data acquisition systems going into the future,” said Brown.
“The Howell data acquisition system provides a solution that meets all of an operator’s needs, not just for today, but for tomorrow.”