NBAA 09: Safety, efficiency top avionics hit list

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Technologies to advance the safety and efficiency of business jet flight operations top the research and development agendas for avionics makers and are hot-selling items for those with certificated products already on the shelves.

While aircraft deliveries for the next several years will be down significantly, the tempo in the laboratories and on the flight-test lines is up, a testament to the proven power of new technology in lifting the industry out of a slump. New products will be value-added by default however, as customers who are weary from a down economy will demand tangible results of any investment.

"The avionics definitely have to carry their own weight in terms of value," says TK Kallenbach, Honeywell's vice-president of product management.

rockwell collins surface management system rockwell collins
 © Rockwell Collins

At Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and other avionics providers, much of the development work is aimed at saving money by averting problems, namely runway incursions, excursions and diversions.

Along with investing heavily in a new generation of those safety tools, Honeywell continues to test new methods to help pilots safely find runways in lower visibilities and with less equipment in the cockpit, avoiding diversions and accidents. By 2012, the company could have available a "merged" system that combines computer-generated synthetic vision and infrared-based enhanced vision systems (EVS) on one screen to boost head-down situational awareness and gain credit for lower landing minima.

Honeywell revealed in mid-September that it had completed more than 25h of demonstration flights with merged systems on company-owned Cessna Citation V and Cessna Sovereign business jets.

To be called SmartView, the system will combine Honeywell's synthetic vision system (SVS) technology with vendor-agnostic enhanced vision systems, says Sergio Cecutta, marketing manager for Honeywell's advanced vision systems. Cecutta says Honeywell is working with the US Federal Aviation Administration "to understand the path to certification" that would allow a merged vision head-down display system to be used to gain lower landing minima in instrument flight conditions without a head-up display.

Honeywell learns from Bendix/King strategy

"Ten or 15 years ago, we developed everything," says Honeywell vice-president of product management, T K Kallenbach, of the company's Bendix/King line of avionics. "We're now looking at what other people can bring to the party for the light end of general aviation."

The attitude change is part of a new strategy by Honeywell in part to get user-friendly avionics into the hearts and minds of a new generation of pilots with the company's Bendix/King AV8OR line of handheld and portable navigation devices.

Honeywell launched the AV8OR handheld at Oshkosh in 2008 and the AV8OR Ace, a larger, more capable portable, at the 2009 show.

Kallenbach says user input on the portable devices on the low end can help create the feedback to ultimately drive new products at the high end. "With the AV8OR, we can have an idea ready for download in about 30 days," says Kallenbach. "These might be features they want to see in the future on a forward-fit certificated display."

Sales of the original AV80R unit are about 10% better than expected, he notes.

Today, operators in Europe and the USA equipped with an appropriate head-up display can fly to as low as 100ft (30m) above the ground using augmented vision for straight-in Category 1 precision approaches, compared with 200ft for non-augmented instrument approaches.

On the prototype merged system, which is being tested at Honeywell's rapid prototyping lab in Phoenix, Arizona, pilots see the camera image directly overlaid on a portion of the synthetic vision scene on the primary flight display.

A toggle is available to change the transparency of the enhanced image with respect to the underlying 3D synthetic scene, which is based on terrain and obstacles data used by the company's enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS).

Cecutta says the primary target market initially for a "merged" system is the more than 500 business jets with enhanced vision systems and Honeywell's Primus Epic-based integrated avionics. Honeywell's PlaneView avionics suite for Gulfstream features synthetic vision on the primary flight display and head-up enhanced vision using a Kollsman infrared camera. Dassault offers an EVS built by CMC and will have synthetic vision available as part of its Primus Epic-based EASy avionics suite upgrade starting in 2010.

Although most of those aircraft are also equipped with head-up displays, Cecutta says having landing credit for a head-down merged system would allow the "pilot not flying", the crew member focused on the instrument panel, to have the same information as a pilot looking through the HUD during the approach, increasing situational awareness of the crew as a whole. For forward fit applications, the capability could mean savings by not having to buy head-up displays.

The company's presumption that the FAA will change flight rules in favour of lower landing minima using head-down displays in the relatively near future could be optimistic, as the agency has not yet determined whether the practice is viable from an operational and safety standpoint. SVS experts say the issue at hand is whether the HDD can be considered "conformal" to the view through the windshield, a complexity not of concern with a see-through HUD.

Cecutta says the software-only merged vision upgrade for applicable Primus Epic-based platforms could be available in the 2011 or 2012 timeframe.

honeywell merged vision systems honeywell
 © Honeywell

Honeywell's Kallenbach admits the timeframe could be several years longer, but sees light at the end of the tunnel nonetheless. "The first thing we have to do is get people used to the synthesised view," he says. Honeywell has more than 100 synthetic vision primary flight display (SV-PFD) systems in Gulfstream aircraft since certificating the package in January 2008. "We have to get the FAA to agree that we can merge the images in a way that's useful and will have no consequences before we can come to an agreement on reduced minima," he says.

"If SVS [certification] was indication of the amount of work we'll have to do, getting credit for the merged system will take a long time and a lot of flying. The key for us as an industry in the meantime is to get people used to a synthetic view."

Gulfstream was the first manufacturer to have a synthetic vision system included as a forward fit in a Part 25 aircraft with its Honeywell-based SV-PFD.

Beyond head-down credit, Honeywell is also investigating advanced primary flight display features such as 3D weather based on the company's new IntuVue 3D weather radar. "Once you get a 3D view of the weather, it's not a big step to build 3D weather on top of 3D terrain," says Kallenbach. Honeywell does not have a timeframe for such a feature, but Kallenbach says it could be ready from a technical standpoint by mid-decade.

Competing integrated avionics supplier Rockwell Collins has done much basic research into "fused" SVS and EVS systems, but its commercial development is taking a back seat to getting its first SVS-equipped flightdeck, Pro Line Fusion, out of the door.

Set to be the integrated avionics package for six new aircraft, four business jets and two regional airliners, Fusion, without SVS, began testing earlier this year on Rockwell Collins' Challenger 601 (N601RC) flight-test aircraft as well as on a Bombardier Global Express XRS as part of the Bombardier Global Vision flightdeck upgrade for the XRS and Global 5000. Rockwell Collins is using its own terrain and obstacle database for SVS, although it will continue using third-party databases for terrain awareness and warning (TAWS) functions.

Bombardier expects to certificate Global Vision by June 2010 and begin customer deliveries of green aircraft in 2011.

Running in parallel with the Bombardier certification is development of the Fusion system for the Gulfstream G250, part of the PlaneView 250 flightdeck. Rockwell Collins and Gulfstream are using ground test rigs both at the Rockwell Collins' Cedar Rapids, Iowa, facilities and at Gulfstream to ready the system for flight tests later. Collins officials had planned to load SVS software into its flying testbed in early October.

Combining SVS and EVS into a single display for reducing landing minima remains on Collins' Fusion roadmap, although the company is also researching other sensor inputs to complement or replace an infrared input, including weather radar and "advanced sensors", says Tim Rayl, senior director of marketing for business and commercial systems.

Universal Avionics, which first received supplemental type certificate approval for its Vision-1 SVS for the primary flight display in 2005, also continues to evaluate fused systems as it formulates its second-generation SVS product. The company has STCs to install is SVS-equipped displays in a number of Part 23 and Part 25 aircraft.

More pressing at Universal, however, are operator requests for wide area augmentation system (WAAS)-aided lateral precision with vertical guidance (LPV) approach capability. LPV uses the WAAS-augmented GPS signal to allow for satellite-based non-precision instrument approaches down to as low as 200ft above the ground. The capability is boosting operator access to runway ends not served by traditional ground-based instrument landing infrastructure, making for more reliable arrivals to more airports.

"By far, WAAS LPV is of the most interest at the moment," says Dan Reida, Universal's vice-president of marketing. "Operators can get a return on that. It gets them into the airport."

The company recently was granted FAA approval to install WAAS LPV into its lateral- and vertical-coupled flight management system units using a days-long FAA form 337 or "field approval" process rather than through the months-long STC process, says Reida. "Dealers are going back and requoting estimates to customers that had previously priced the upgrade using an STC," he says, adding that the cost difference could be as much as 25% less.

Honeywell and Rockwell Collins are on more or less an equal footing in the area of advanced surface management.

Will Garmin take the plunge?

Twenty years ago, Garmin started life in a little office building in Kansas with about five people on staff. Today the company has a workforce of more than 9,000, not just in Kansas, but in Taiwan and elsewhere around the world.

"We decided we were going to take on the automotive, aviation and other markets," says Gary Kelley, Garmin's vice-president of marketing. "People said: 'How will you do that?' We don't view that as a barrier, but as an opportunity."

The opportunity has resulted in a large number of certificated integrated flightdecks - 30 to date - for the company. The Embraer Phenom 300 integrated cockpit, the company's most complex avionics suite to date, is essentially a Part 25 product given that its software is certificated to the highest standards (DO-178B Level A), says Kelly. Embraer plans to certificate under Part 23 rules the six-passenger light jet later this year.

In addition to "investing heavily" to expand, particularly in the international market, Kelley says the company is also "spending a lot of time" looking at ways to be innovative. "There are many things yet that we see on the horizon that will make cockpits of tomorrow even better," he says. Some of those innovations are likely to be revealed at the National Business Aviation Association's annual exhibition and trade show in Orlando. "We've got a few things up our sleeve that we haven't shown yet," he says.

Kelley says layoffs have been few at the company, although a hiring freeze was put into effect due to the downturn. The sour economy has resulted in a 30% decline in demand for its products over the past six months. Kelley says new product launches have softened the decline, however. At this year's Experimental Aviation Association's Oshkosh show in August, Garmin launched the new G500 system for Part 23 aircraft and the G3X for light sport and experimental, among other new products.

As for market recovery, he says some dealers and distributors are reporting more advanced bookings, and more customers are asking for price quotes, positive signs for stronger business ahead.

Given Garmin's large market share on the light side of general aviation and its inroads in the upper echelons of the Part 23 community with the Embraer products, it is natural to ask if there is a Part 25 project up the sleeve."We are considering [Part 25] because we see opportunities there," Kelley admits."

"If you look at the percentage of accidents and fatalities, excursions lead," says Honeywell's Kallenbach. "In terms of value proposition, the key to runway safety is working on excursions."

Honeywell's second generation of runway safety aids do just that. SmartRunway and SmartLanding were approved by the FAA in mid-September. The first generation, Honeywell's runway awareness and advisory system (RAAS), which issues a number of audible alerts regarding an aircraft's on-ground position with respect to runways, was first approved in 2004. SmartRunway adds more surface advisories to RAAS and for the first time also displays messages in text on the horizontal situation indicator (HSI) in the cockpit.

SmartLanding by contrast was designed to inform pilots, both audibly and on the HSI, of unstable approaches due to a variety of piloting and configuration problems, including an attempt to land too fast or without flaps.

Boeing offers SmartRunway as an option on its 747-8 and 777 aircraft and will make it available on the 737 family early next year. Emirates is the launch customer for SmartLanding. Both systems are a software upgrade to Honeywell's enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) terrain and obstacle database, which is installed in more than 30,000 aircraft.

Engineers are experimenting in Honeywell's rapid prototyping laboratory with the third generation, an application called airport maps that will boost fidelity of the environment and own-ship position, show other traffic (if equipped with automatic dependent surveillance - broadcast) and highlight the taxi route issued by air traffic control, boosting situational awareness and cutting the potential for collisions.

Honeywell's Cecutta says the company is compiling the high-resolution maps internally and will include "all major air transport and business jet airports". He says the application could be ready for Honeywell Primus Epic integrated avionics cockpits by 2012, giving pilots the ability to progressively zoom in on runways and taxiways far beyond the 1.9km (1nm) maximum zoom on today's airport maps.

Rockwell Collins continues to perfect its first-generation surface management system, although its advanced offerings, which will include cockpit display of ground traffic, could be timed more closely with Honeywell's. Phase one, an airport awareness and alerting function similar to RAAS, is set to go live in the Global Vision and G250 flightdecks. Along with five aural alerts, the software highlights in cyan the runway selected by pilots in the FMS and displays intuitive runway numbers and arrows that indicate take-off direction on the airport map on the multifunction display.

The aim of the package is simple - to increase situational awareness to the point where a pilot will not take off on the wrong surface. Rayl says the Jeppesen-provided database of high-fidelity airports covers 300-400 locations. HUD-equipped operators with Fusion and the alert tool will initially see ground speed in their HUDs, although later versions will include SVS images as well. Phase two will include the ability to highlight a taxi route on the display and phase three will include other airport traffic through ADS-B surveillance.

Both firms are playing catch-up to some extent with avionics provider ACSS. The company's surface area movement management (SAMM) application, part of its broader SafeRoute product line, has been certificated and in initial operation with carriers such as UPS since 2007. SAMM gives a cockpit display of own-ship position on the airport, as well as the position of other vehicles and aircraft, based on transponder and ADS-B outputs.

Although no business aviation operators have purchased the system to date, upcoming airline trials could turn the tide, says Stephen Burns, ACSS marketing manager. As part of what is being called Capstone 3, US Airways is equipping 20 Airbus A330s with ACSS TCAS 3000SP computer units, which carry the SafeRoute software applications, as well as class 3 electronic flight bags built by Goodrich.

Included in the demonstration, which begins in November, will be a new surface indicating and alerting (SURF 1A) application that will give pilots aural and visual alerts when it detects potential conflicts. Burns says business aviation interests are taking note. "There are a lot of conversations going on," he says.

Honeywell is experimenting with a "merged" synthetic and enhanced vision system in the lab and in the air

Rockwell Collins is testing Pro Line Fusion on the right side cockpit of its Challenger 601 aircraft, while the legacy Pro Line 21 is on the left side

Rockwell Collins is testing a variety of surface management tools in its labs. First to production will be a pilot alert tool that detects takeoffs on the wrong runway

ACSS's Surf 1A generates an alert that depicts traffic as a red warning symbol