AEDC T-3 engine test cell receives upgrades for future tests

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – The Arnold Engineering Development Complex T-3 turbine engine test cell at Arnold Air Force Base is undergoing several modifications to prepare it for future testing.

Built as part of the Engine Test Facility, or ETF, at Arnold in the early 1950s, the T-3 test cell was designed for testing small engines. It has the capability to reach Mach 4 at simulated altitudes below 70,000 feet and Mach 2.5 at sea-level conditions.

T-3 is one of four operational test cells within ETF, but the cell hasn’t been updated since the late 1980s.

According to Mark Duke, a project manager for National Aerospace Solutions, LLC, the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor at Arnold AFB, T-3 is currently experiencing a “face-lift” to bring the technology up to date and to make the data acquisition process more efficient.

“Replacement parts for the test cell are hard to find, and that’s one of the big reasons that we’re doing this,” he said.

“The new T-3 Data Acquisition System, or DAS, is being checked out, and the cell is getting a new Test Area Control System, which is still in the design phase.”

2nd Lt. Adam Doyle, a project manager for the Test Systems Sustainment Division, mentioned that the DAS upgrade will provide a more reliable way to effectively establish and control test conditions.

“With that upgrade, we are also upgrading our Test Unit Support System to a Test Area Control System,” he said. “These two upgrades will help standardize the T-3 test cell equipment, which will reduce maintenance cost with regards to spare parts and training of personnel. Saving money for AEDC and the test customer is a huge accomplishment for this project.”

Jorge Moreno, an Instrumentation, Data and Controls technical specialist, agreed that improving the data system will be very beneficial for the Aeropropulsion Combined Test Force.

“It will greatly increase our data quality, as well as the reliability and maintainability of the data system,” he said. “Modernization will also standardize T-3’s data system to be similar to other test cells across AEDC.”

As part of the project, new High Pressure Air test cell cooling piping is being installed. An important outcome of the new HPA test cell cooling is an increase in the test capabilities of T-3.

“We’ll be able to achieve a larger envelope and be able to provide test conditions that we were unable to previously obtain,” Duke said.

A low pressure air system was previously installed at T-3, which requires running C-Plant, the plant used by the Aeropropulsion System Test Facility’s C-1 and C-2 test cells, to achieve certain conditions.

“Once the new HPA test cell cooling is checked out and online, there will be a cost savings because we will no longer have to run C-plant,” Duke said.

Doyle echoed how necessary this improvement is.

“The HPA Test Cell Cooling System will provide an efficient method of controlling the temperature in the test cell, which in turn will expand the testing envelop for our future AEDC customers,” he said. “The longer a test article can be tested, the more data we can take during a test.”

Amid these other changes, the entire control room for T-3 is being replaced.

“The control room still has the same GE/Westinghouse hardware and software from the 1980s because they were one of the primary customers at the time,” Duke said.

Doyle stated when all phases of the T-3 modernization is complete, it will be a big day for AEDC and its engine test customers.

“Providing the test customer and AEDC with a test cell that provides a greater testing envelope, more experienced personnel and systems, and cheaper maintainability is a win-win for AEDC,” he said.

Dakota Aaron, right, an eSTARR hardware engineer, and Calvin Davis, an instrumentation, data and controls engineer, check the new network switch and data source computers in the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Engine Test Facility T-3 test cell data conditioning room at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., Dec. 3. The network switch and data source computers are part of upgrades to the test cell, including the new digital voltage scanners at the right. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

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