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Case Studies Defense

Engineering the Air Force Advantage With ATLAS Test Equipment

The flying branch needed to update software and hardware systems – MTSI was there with the original designers

For decades, the U.S. Air Force depended on Abbreviated Test Language for All System (ATLAS) for use with automated test equipment. Similar to FORTRAN, the ATLAS programming language found uses on test stations for testing avionics in aircraft ranging from the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the B-1 Lancer and C-17 Globemaster III – extending past the Cold War to dual-use aircraft for the U.S. and NATO.

A major defense contractor had a problem with their ATLAS software and hardware systems used in U.S. Air Force systems. They approached MTSI for a solution.

In this case, the hardware was obsolete and needed to be replaced but there was no suitable replacement hardware.  More worrisome was that the ATLAS software could not be changed. One reason is because of a unique aspect of the ATLAS language in that it’s a virtual language. This means that it is divorced from the test system is to be run on.

More specifically, the rules of ATLAS require that no reference to the ultimate test system upon which the ATLAS test language is run can be included in the program or procedure itself. As a result, an ATLAS program may have a statement such as:

APPLY, 50VDC, J-1, J-2

It will never have a statement such as: “APPLY, BB*55_ _ $” or “APPLY S*1_ _ _” referring to a specific resource of a specific test system.

As a result, it was impossible to change the ALTAS software to use the desired operating system without developing new hardware and modifying the operating system.

The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and NATO services became increasingly active in the ATLAS language development efforts. Commercial companies working with these agencies as part of the defense industry also recognized the potential benefit of ATLAS for support of avionics systems. In this case the prime contractor that was refurbishing the machines was stuck with no solution.

Solution

As a subcontractor, MTSI developed a VME-based replacement system. VME is a modular computer form factor based on Eurocard formats. Two MTSI engineers were part of the original VME design group at Mostek which made our team positioned to deliver the most advanced capabilities with the VMEbus.

VMEbus is short for VersaModular Eurocard bus, and thus from the name, is a bus system (or a computer path system) for industrial applications such as VME power supplies, embedded single board computers (SBC) and actuator automation.

MTSI is proud of its work with the defense community from the Air Force, Navy, to allies and mission partners. As we grow this work supporting the U.S. Armed Forces, we’re looking for partners to join us.