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Aircraft boneyard gets tagged

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The US Air Force is adopting RFID tagging to track tools and aeroplane parts around the aircraft storage and maintenance area at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, but with a site of 110 million square feet traditional tags won't give you much of a location.

RFID is normally used for ranges around 10cm, which would make the technology impractical on a site of this size. But by combining RFID, GPS and Wi-Fi, Redwood-based Aeroscout reckons it can track any component or tool down to within few meters - providing real-time tracking and a central database showing where everything is.

As the RFID Journal reports, Aeroscout won't be tracking every hammer and spanner. The tags being used are about 12cm x 7cm and 3.5cm thick, but they incorporate a GPS receiver as well as Wi-Fi and RFID identification and a motion sensor. The premise is that if a tag can see at least three of the 42 Wi-Fi access points already deployed around the site then it will triangulate its position using those, otherwise it will check the GPS and report its position and RFID identifier. What's more, it will only do so after being moved, saving a good deal of battery life.

GPS might seem to be the only necessary solution, but with parts of the site indoors and the odd aircraft wing getting in the way there's a fair chance of not getting a satellite fix.

With 4,400 aircraft at the site there are lots of wings under which equipment can be left and lots of time wasted looking for this equipment. When the system goes live in January only 1000 of the most frequently lost and valuable items will be tagged, but plans are already underway to expand that number and get everything tagged. After all, there's nothing more embarrassing than losing a B-52 or similar. ®

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