Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nev., flightline hosted a rodeo, but instead of bulls, broncos and clowns, participants corralled laptop and handheld computers, Personal Digital Devices (PDAs) and tablet PCs. Arranged by the Standard Systems Group, the E-Tools rodeo was designed to test the usability of various devices under varying conditions. "We loaded maintenance software on various devices from different vendors and then had maintenance troops test them for ease of use and readability," said Master Sgt. Michael Rourke, Standard Systems Group Point of Maintenance project manager.
An E-Tool is any electronic piece of equipment that can be used to access and view technical data or collect and display transaction data while workers or technicians do their jobs. "This test is our first scientific attempt to come up with data to determine the range of E-Tools," said Maj. Rene Leon, a logistics information systems manager at Headquarters Air Force, Installations and Logistics. "Using E-Tools should make it easier for the maintainer to access or input data while doing the work at their point of maintenance."
The Air Force Research Laboratory and the University of Dayton Research Institute developed sample maintenance open work order tasks for each participant to follow. The maintenance troops had to repeat the same tasks in chemical resistant gear prior to answering a questionnaire. Staff Sgt. Charles Flood, a back shop armament specialist with the 57th EMS, was impressed with the E-Tools he tested. "By using E-Tools, we won't have to run to the office all the time; we'll have the data right at our fingertips," he said.
Currently most maintainers must finish the job before going back to the office to input the work order documentation. That process sometimes takes time, said Staff Sgt. Charles Proctor, an F-15E crew chief. "We either have to stop what we're doing, find an open terminal and log in, then enter the data or finish the job and find the time later to enter it. These tools should definitely speed up the process."
Following the test, the researchers will take a look at the participant's overall impressions and feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of each device. "It's important to understand that this was not a competition between vendors and devices," Rourke said. "Users will choose which device they would like to use based on their own criteria." "We'll eventually develop a matrix listing a set of Air Force approved E-tools," Leon said. "This test was just one baby step toward that end product."