OGDEN, Utah – A senior project by two Weber State University electronics engineering technology students is helping Hill Air Force Base improve some of its training exercise equipment.
Seniors David Ashton and Ryan Tidwell have each spent more than 300 hours, working on how to replace 10-year-old memory board components in devices that collect data from simulated-combat flight exercises.
Planes used for training exercises at the base have pods placed under the wings of each aircraft. Inside the pods are devices that record multiple facets of the mission, including location and velocity of the aircraft, whether it has been shot, where it has sustained damage, etc.
“The data from these pods are downloaded and used for post-exercise debriefing sessions,” said WSU computer and electronics engineering technology (CEET) professor Bill Clapp, a retired United States Air Force colonel who served as the faculty mentor on the project. “This information tells the pilots how well they did during the exercise and helps them hone their skills.”
The assignment may have sounded simple, but both students said it soon proved otherwise.
For Ashton, who works as a civilian mechanic on the base, the first hurdle was learning the obscure coding language necessary for the project.
“We needed to take an old system and make it work with new technology,” Ashton said. “That meant we needed to research the old systems and find ways for the new circuitry to interface with the older technologies surrounding it.”
At the same time Ashton and Tidwell were working on the project, a team of base engineers were upgrading separate pod components. The simultaneous work not only added to the complexity of the project, it made communication between the two groups imperative. Ashton said he learned a lot about the importance of collaboration and timely communication.
As the project hit snags along the way, Ashton said they learned that many variables and limitations can complicate a project, forcing changes during the process. Clapp said the experience will benefit both students in their careers, as well as the base.
“These memory boards are wearing out and need to be replaced by new circuit cards,” Clapp said. “As an Air Force depot, the role of Hill Air Force Base is to replace and upgrade equipment and systems on these aircraft. I’m proud our students can contribute to that mission.”
Clapp noted that a third of the engineers at HAFB are graduates of WSU’s CEET program.
Having served four years in the U.S. Air Force, Ashton said it “feels good to be able to work around the big missions or assignments again.”
Ashton said the senior project, like many of his assignments at WSU, involved hands-on experiences. He said he applies a lot of what he’s learned at WSU to his daily work at the base. Eventually, Ashton would like to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering and pursue a career in the defense industry. He credits the faculty and his studies at WSU with helping him find his career path.
“I’ve come a long way from where I was at age 18,” Ashton said. “If you put your mind to something, you can really do it.”
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