In the competitive world of aircraft manufacturing, AIRBUS is using its data to optimize flight test campaigns and improve test analysis.

New aircraft certification takes months to complete, and flight tests are essential to that process. Test flights discover maturity gaps and check airworthiness requirements, with the ultimate objective of obtaining the aircraft certification that is mandatory to operate. In conjunction with its customers, AIRBUS is working to shorten these cycles and optimize each flight for maximum value.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with AIRBUS personnel, Stéphane Neuzillet, Head of Aircraft Data Processing, and Laurent Peltiers, Test Data Processing Expert, Flight & Integration Test Center. They walked me through their flight test center challenges and how they are overcoming them. This will be the topic of their upcoming MarkLogic World session, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek.

Complex Testing

Data is proving to be a challenging component in flight test centers throughout the world, as AIRBUS and others are dealing with terabytes and even petabytes of data. The amount of data alone makes relevant information discovery difficult. For example, the A350 produces 50x more data than its little brother, the A320.

Additionally, flight test environments are constantly changing due to weather conditions, last-minute technical constraints and state-of-the-art technology product management.

Historically, each flight was dedicated to a set of specific requests, and data usage that optimized the new flights was considerable. There was no solution in place to search within the data in order to simply retrieve a specific condition and its result (such as fuel consumption at a certain speed and altitude). Even if a user found something, the data often needed to be correlated with other data, which then blocked the process.

Finding the right set of data, in a simple way, was the reason behind investigating into the MarkLogic® Operational Data Hub (ODH) platform.

MarkLogic Data Management Platform

AIRBUS is not alone in facing these challenges, but the organization is unique in how it is addressing them. Rather than spending months or years doing traditional data integration, AIRBUS decided to use a new approach with the ODH deployed on Amazon Web Services. The hub ingests data from many different data sources:

  • Sensors and instrumentation time series (everything added on top of a standard aircraft)
  • Tests metadata and avionics systems communications
  • Flight crew reports, which includes configuration of the plane and details of the flight including weather, wind, route and many other variables

Tying all of this data and metadata together is critical, so AIRBUS is leveraging MarkLogic’s multi-model approach, using MarkLogic Semantics to link data and events in order to provide a comprehensive picture of tests and results. In total, AIRBUS stores several billions of triples in MarkLogic.

To keep this data safe in the cloud, AIRBUS relies on MarkLogic Advanced Encryption, which is easy to use with one comprehensive, standards-compliant Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP) toolkit. Also, AIRBUS is using MarkLogic’s Element-level Security, which secures data at a more granular level than any NoSQL database.

Flight Test Optimization and Shortened Lead Time

With the ODH, AIRBUS is leveraging previous flight test data to reduce test preparation times, optimize new flight tests and avoid running redundant tests. This allows AIRBUS to reduce the time and costs of conducting those critical tests without compromising safety. “If a specific event occurred on a flight and people wanted to know if it already happened in the past, it could take weeks to discover. Now it only takes minutes,” said Stéphane Neuzillet. “Identifying these cases can be useful to qualify if a new flight is required or not.”

Comprehensive views of the data are helping engineers and scientists learn about previous tests and metadata within them, such as how much fuel an aircraft consumed in a two-hour flight with varying conditions. By making this data not only discoverable, AIRBUS is making it re-usable as the company can apply this information to future tests, speeding the time to knowledge. “For testers and specialists, the platform is a revolution,” said Laurent Peltiers. “Two years ago, they used to do time-consuming, flight-by-flight analysis. Today, they can compare thousands of tests quickly—this is part of the multi-flight analysis revolution.” 

Additionally, the AIRBUS team cited MarkLogic’s ease of use. “We can search within the data without coding. It’s easy to use for a test engineer. Almost anybody can use it,” said Stéphane Neuzillet.

AIRBUS also reported that the success of the platform is spurring an increasing number of use cases within the organization. “The document database and triple store are very efficient to do a lot of jobs, so we have many new opportunities,” said Laurent Peltiers.

Learn More

If you are as intrigued by the AIRBUS flight test data story as I am, come hear the full story at MarkLogic World, May 14-15 in Washington D.C. If you can’t make it, check out the MarkLogic Customer page in mid-June where you can watch a video of the AIRBUS session.

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