Todd's Boeing Page
I am an Engineer in the Lab Test organization of Boeing Commercial Airplane Group in Seattle, Washington. The image at right is the flight deck of a 777. The photo of the flight deck was taken in the building I work in, the Integrated Airplane Systems Lab (IASL). It's actually an Engineering Flight Simulator or Simulation Cab. All of the real displays, framework, windows, etc. are in the Simulation Cab. For the photo (which is available as a poster in the Boeing Gift Shops), they stripped in the background, or "out the window" view. Our vision system is good, but not that good. The view is sitting on Runway 13 Right at King County Airport (commonly known as Boeing Field) across the street from my building.
An Engineering Flight Simulator is heavily used when a new airplane is in development. While its primary mission is not about training pilots (we do that elsewhere), it does get used for early pilot training, as it's usually the first simulator built in the world for that type of airplane. We use them to verify the flight deck design is working as it should. This includes the "Man-Machine Interface", or how the pilots interact with the various controls and displays. The cabs also get used for verifying new software loads on the vast assortment of computers that run a modern airplane. This particular cab is used to certify with regulatory agencies some of our cockpit crew procedures that are difficult to do in Flight Test. These include an engine failure at takeoff, and windshear procedures.
I worked in the 777 System Integration Lab (SIL) when it was active. This was a lab that was setup to Integrate the Electronic Systems of the 777. We basically took all 100 or so "Black Boxes" that comprise the electronics suite on a 777 and lashed them all up together with airplane wiring. We fed the lab power from real airplane generators that were spun up on drivestands. Surround the whole package with a Harris Nighthawk computer running 6 parallel processers to simulate the closed-loop environment, and it's time to go flying!
If you've ever had troubles with interfacing a printer and a computer, you can imagine how complex it can be to power on 100 computers on a network simultaneously. Did I mention there's about 20 different suppliers of these computers? Having a SIL allowed us to work out the bugs well before the last minute. We did every milestone about one year ahead of the "real" airplane: Power On, First Flight, etc. We ran the SIL 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, for about 18 months. We racked up 4 times as many flight hours as any of the Flight Test birds. I'm not a certificated pilot, but I racked up about 300 flight hours in the SIL, all of it on instruments. They tell me that these hours count as simulator training time, and that therefore I could be on my way to a Transport rating on a pilot's license. I'll pass.
What we learned in the SIL was a major contribution to the 777 being one damn good airplane. If you get a chance to fly in one, by all means do so.
Both of the images above are available on Boeing's web page at the photo gallery.
My current assignment has me parlaying the skills I learned developing my music database into some database work for the Labs. The Lab Test Cost / Value Database is essentially a crude business model that tracks all of the costs in the labs and allocates them to our external products and services. The database was prototyped in MS Access, but it has grown beyond what Access can comfortably handle. It's currently about 500K records, 100 MB of data, and features odd things like recursive allocation of costs from one lab to another. The database is currently being ported to Oracle. I suppose I'll learn that too.
The lab database work means I have a broad view of the entire lab enterprise. With Boeing's acquisition last year of North American Rockwell assets and the later merger with McDonnell-Douglas, my broad view turned into an assignment to see just what we'd gotten ourselves into. My purview now includes lab consolidation and "right-sizing", a task which is always difficult. It involves working with people that have been doing a great job in the labs for many years, and now the larger combined company simply does not need as many labs as it has.
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