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“We’re a privately owned company, which allows us to remain flexible to our customers’ needs while providing cutting edge capabilities,” said Mitchell Boeshart, vice president, engineering for Howell Instruments.
In a 117,000-square-foot (10,870-square-meter), state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, a team of highly trained technicians, engineers and support staff maintain the tradition of technological innovation started by the company’s founder, John. S. Howell, almost 70 years ago.
Faced with the challenges generated by the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command’s operation of the Convair B-36 bomber–a long-range behemoth powered by six 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engines and four General Electric jet engines–Howell designed and patented the JetCal Analyzer. This device eliminated the expensive and time-consuming removal of the aircraft’s engines by testing and analyzing each powerplant’s operation “on the wing.”
Now, after nearly seven decades with an intense focus on the insides of engines, there’s not much that Howell Instruments can’t interpret.
“Our niche in the market is understanding gas turbine signals and being able to convert those signals into either a digital representation or through indicators,” said Boeshart. “We have dealt with just about every signal that’s out there in terms of gas turbines–we know how to read synchros and thermocouples, and how to do frequency conversions. That’s our expertise and our core competency.”
Howell’s product line spans installed equipment, displays, data acquisition units, cockpit indicators, engine monitors and test cell equipment.
With a wide range of products and a small, dedicated team, Howell works closely with its clients to customize its equipment for specific applications. It’s a strategy that results in a product selection that numbers in the tens of thousands, according to Boeshart.
“Let’s take a two-inch cockpit indicator as an example. We may have 50 different variations of that given product based upon limiting conditions of a propeller, rotor or engine. We adapt our products to the market in which they’re going to be installed.”
Targeting the rotorcraft market, Howell is promoting the use of its Data Acquisition Units (DAUs), cockpit displays and configuration modules, all of which can be efficient upgrades.
“Our position at Howell Instruments is to try and reduce the cost to the end-user and give them a capability similar to the engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS), but at a much lower cost than what other OEMs can do with their displays,” explained Boeshart.
Howell’s DAU is wired to receive engine and airframe parameters, such as torque or fuel flow. It feeds that information to one of the company’s displays, or it interfaces with existing cockpit instrumentation.
Rigorously engineered and tested to meet RTCA DO-178B Design Assurance Level A, the DAU installation can be augmented with a Data Logger Unit.
As with all Howell products, the DAU can “listen” and “talk” to pretty much any equipment.
“Speed is speed, voltage is voltage, frequency is frequency,” said Boeshart. “It doesn’t matter to us what platform provides the data. It doesn’t matter because we do data acquisition and we do data conversion–we’ve been on almost all the platforms. Our technology is agnostic, independent of the platform. And with the systems being agnostic, REACT, our Real-time Embedded Application Configuration Tool, bridges the technology to the platform.”
As the industry embraces the use of parametric files to streamline software configuration, Howell developed REACT as a graphical user interface to build parametric files for its systems.
“Say you have a turbine gas temperature parameter with a limit of 866 degrees,” said Boeshart. “You would use the REACT tool to configure the 866-degree temperature limits, then that value would be stored, not in the software, but in the parametric file.”
By giving the end-user the ability to make modifications at the design level through a simple user interface, REACT takes away the complexity of manually configuring a DAU, a display or an indicator–what used to be a daunting task with thousands of parametric settings.
As an immensely user-configurable software interface, REACT accesses all the parameters of an airframe and propulsion system on board the aircraft and displays them in a way that’s effective and efficient for pilots and engineers.
“REACT will lead to huge time savings during integration and installation, saving as much as 60 to 70 percent of effort,” said Boeshart.
Howell Instruments plans to debut REACT at Heli-Expo 2020. It will be the first in a tool suite designed to bridge the gap between an aircraft’s systems, equipment and displays.