Profiles in Test: Jerry Lomurno, Eastern OptX

-October 24, 2012

Earlier this year, when I was at Autotestcon 2012, I had the good fortune to meet Jerry Lomurno, president of Eastern OptX. I enjoyed our conversation so much, that I asked him to participate in a new series I’m beginning: Profiles in Test. Jerry began his career in the USAF (just like my father!). He left the forces in 1968 and became the microwave specialist at General Electric Inc.’s calibration laboratory. Here are some highlights from my conversation with Jerry. Please use the comments section to share your own memories or ask questions of Jerry.

Janine Love: (Janine) why did you first get into this market/career?
Jerry Lomurno (Jerry): It all started with the US Air Force in the late 1960s. They determine what your aptitude is, so they figured it out for me and set me up with radar. Before I knew it, I was in charge of a radar site on Long Island, and my job was to tweak the radar to make it work at its best. In this position, I could buy all of the test equipment I wanted, but the frustration was that I still wasn’t able to calibrate range accuracy. I was dependent on sending an airplane out, having the pilot tell me where he was, and then I would look at the screen to see if it was the same.

What happened next for you professionally?
When I got out of the Air Force I went to work for GE in the calibration lab. Because of my background in radar they made me the microwave guy. While there, I developed a technique to adjust for range accuracy on missile’s surface fuze. I had to teach this technique to Air Force personnel all around the country. That’s when I first got the idea for the delay line. Wouldn’t it be neat if we could have a signal go into an instrument and come out the exact same way but at a later time? Later, I started my own manufacturer’s representative company, Eastern Instrumentation, because of my love of test equipment. In the 1990s, during the telecom boom we found ourselves dabbling in the fiber-optic market when I realized that because of low insertion loss of fiber-optic cable, we could spool many miles of F/O cable and create the delay line that I’d been dreaming about for years. I founded Eastern OptX in 1996 and started delivery of the systems in 1997. It has taken off nicely.

What do you find fascinating about engineering/avionics test?
When I look at virtually any high technology product, from smart phones to radar systems, I like to visualize how I might test it in order to verify that it operates per all of the specifications. I guess that is a hobby (or bad habit). I am lucky in that people actually pay me to do this.

What has surprised you over the years in terms of technology?
The surprising thing for me is that many electrical engineers today believe that everything can be solved with digital techniques. I’d like to point out that analog is still alive and kicking.  There are some good things coming out of the digital era; for example, the virtual/synthetic instruments (from NI and Aeroflex) have done an incredible job of allowing you to reconfigure instruments, which is a pleasant surprise. I’m also surprised that there have been advances in microwave over fiber. We are inspired by these developments and are trying to figure out a way to marry the best of synthetic instruments with some RF over fiber techniques to come up with some interesting instruments for avionics and general purpose test.

Can you give us an example?
You can take a virtual instrument on the front end of an altimeter tester (which will give you range), but there’s other things that you need to measure, such as phase noise, spurious, sweep linearity of the transmit signal, power levels, and receiver sensitivity. A good front-end virtual instrument in front of the delay simulation would be a winner for the industry, especially in the development labs. (Flight-line testers probably don’t care about spurious, etc., but development labs need more sophisticated testing).

What did you think we’d be able to do now that we still can’t?
#1: Has to do with RF over fiber adoption. You see, we can do some interesting things with RF over fiber, like take one single fiber and route 8, 16, or more (or fewer) RF signals over that one fiber using WDM technology. This means we could eliminate 16 RF cables, which would reduce weight and cost to a military system. The frustrating thing is the prime contractors and DOD are reluctant to pull that coaxial cable out and replace it with fiber. Probably could’ve been done three or four years ago, but we are not seeing the Prime contractors of the world grab this technique.

#2: In the 1980s, Al Schwartzman, a visionary at Lockheed, predicted that all the signal processing would be done right at the antenna without need for down conversion. We still aren’t quite there yet.

#3: You still can’t measure RF power to any degree of accuracy. Today, you can get a voltmeter to seven digits, but RF measurement for power is at 5% accuracy or worse. The problem is it is a very difficult measurement—mW or joules of energy at many different frequencies. In most cases, engineers look at their power meters and report the results confidently. But when you really look at the accuracy, it’s at 4-5%. I guess everyone is accustomed to living with that. I find the spec sheets from power meter vendors can be very misleading, so perhaps a lot of people think they are getting more accurate power measurements that they really are.

>>What’s next for avionics test?
Next: Title-1

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