Speak to certain executives at the aerospace division of Honeywell and there is one word that dominates conversation: connectivity.

And, as they outline the potential for reliable, high-speed, in-flight broadband, there is an almost evangelical zeal in their delivery.

Carl Esposito, vice-president strategy, marketing and product management at the Phoenix, Arizona-based firm, falls into that category. He says Honeywell is building a strategy around the “connected aircraft”.

That strategy is underpinned by the launch this year of Inmarsat’s GX Aviation – known as Jet Connex for business aviation – Ka-band service, for which Honeywell provides its JetWave hardware.

GX promises global, high-speed coverage – other providers make similar claims – and Honeywell is keenly aware of the possibilities it offers above and beyond in-flight wi-fi for passengers.

“We are asking, how does connectivity really enable the rest of the airplane to communicate more effectively and efficiently than it has done before?” says Esposito.

He cites the example of a nose-mounted weather radar which is looking some 300nm (555km) in front of the aircraft. If data accumulated by several aircraft can be broadcast to a central location, aggregated and transmitted back, it will provide a richer, more comprehensive and broader “crowd-sourced” weather feed in real-time. This would give “truly revolutionary access to information”, says Esposito.

Clearly the aircraft being connected is not new in itself; Inmarsat boasts its Classic Aero service has been around for 20 years and the ACARS datalink has been operating since 1978. However what differs is the amount of data which can now be transmitted.

This will, in theory, allow more detailed information to be broadcast from all the aircraft’s major systems or components. Esposito argues Honeywell, with its nose-to-tail product portfolio, is best placed to understand which information, or combination thereof, is most relevant to be transmitted.

“You are going to see [connectivity] evolve our products. There’s not a product line in our portfolio that doesn’t have a connectivity strategy behind it,” he says.

“We are just scratching the surface of what you are going to see from an operational perspective.”

Mike Edmonds, vice-president for services and connectivity, is using the better links from the aircraft in a slightly different way. Under Honeywell’s GoDirect banner it has tablet-based applications available or in development. These include: My Maintainer – which offers maintenance crews a wireless link with the aircraft (the ultimate aim is remote access for diagnostics and in-flight reporting); Flight Preview – which gives pilots the opportunity to ‘fly’ an approach before arriving at the airport; an adaptation of its Weather Info Service to produce vertical optimisation guidance and avoid storms or turbulence; and Aviaso, a company acquired by Honeywell last year, which brings data analytics software to the aviation market to provide better analysis of fleet fuel use. Although more popular with scheduled airlines than business aviation operators, Edmonds points to its “relevance” to fractional providers as well.

“This approach is enabled by tablets and connectivity,” he says. “We can roll services out much faster and more cheaply into apps rather than the avionics. We can test them in a tablet and if they offer real value today, then tomorrow they will end up back in the cockpit.

“The old choice was to wait three years before you could get it into the cockpit, but now we can get it out there for people to use and see if it makes sense [to build it into the avionics].”

Although connectivity appears to be flavour of the month at Honeywell, the manufacturer is also pushing ahead with updates to its avionics and cockpit display systems.

It already offers its SmartView synthetic vision system – available on Dassault and Gulfstream business jets as their respective EASy II and Plane View flight decks – and will look to bring a second iteration to market in around 2018. In the near term, it is adding a system called Taxi View, which gives pilots a “para-sail” view of the aircraft on the primary flight display, aiding airport navigation.

Elsewhere within the Advanced Technology Avionics Labs at its Deer Valley, Arizona facility, even more high-tech solutions are being developed.

For example, using a modified Beechcraft King Air, Honeywell has proved that with the right equipment the aircraft can be commanded to make turns or level out, solely by measuring and monitoring a pilot’s brain waves.

The company is not suggesting controlling the aircraft would be the eventual application, but the technology could be employed to turn a page in a flight manual or “if you want a different modality when your hands are engaged or you are talking to someone”, says Santosh Mathan, staff scientist.

“We took on the aircraft control challenge because it was a difficult one, but the eventual application is probably something less exciting, like turning a page or entering a particular digit,” he adds.

A few doors down is a laboratory capable of reproducing the ambient noise in a typical cockpit. It is here that speech recognition technology is being worked on, and the tablet-based programme developed so far is sufficiently robust it can take live air traffic control instructions – typically jargon-filled and delivered at rapid-fire speed – and convert them into deciphered text. This serves as both a real-time aid and reference tool.

Meanwhile, over at Honeywell's factory hard by Phoenix Sky Harbor international airport, it is engines that dominate. The company claims the plant is “one of the highest-volume engine facilities in the world”, although that is driven by the fact all its engines – from turbofans to turboshafts and auxiliary power units – are produced under the same roof, in sharp contrast to other manufacturers.

Sitting at the top of the range is the HTF7000 turbofan, which powers a number of super midsize business jets including the Embraer Legacy 450 and 500, Gulfstream G280 and the in-development Cessna Citation Longitude.

“It has been the engine of choice for super-medium business jets. It’s been a bit of a home run for us – we own the market segment,” says Mike Bevans, senior director, technical sales, business and general aviation.

The 7,000lb-thrust (31.5kN) HTF7000 uses a four-stage axial compressor and single-stage centrifugal compressor, featuring a 20:1 overall pressure ratio.

However there is potential for growth. “We continue to see business aviation move towards [a] higher thrust-class engine so we are looking to see what the next launches will be from our customers," says chief technology officer Bob Smith.

“Certainly we have an interest in that [growth]. It’s just going to require the aircraft to show up that needs it."

Although the HTF7500E for the Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 is at about 7,500lb-thrust, to expand the engine much beyond that would require a new core, albeit with similar geometry, says Bevans.

“Risk reduction” studies have been carried out for a higher-thrust model, says Bevans. “We have literally been using one of the spare development engines to test the technologies out.”

Honeywell, in common with any number of manufacturing firms, is also exploring the possibilities offered by 3D printing. Its first production application is a splash guard for an oil tank in the APU, but this year another six or seven components – mostly nozzles and brackets – will go into production, says Don Godfrey, engineering fellow and additive manufacturing lead at the company.

“We see this technology being used for non life-critical – meaning non-rotating – parts for the next few years. What we are doing today is getting the engineering community, our customers and the FAA [US Federal Aviation Administration] comfortable with the technology,” he says.

Fuel cell technology is another area of research, although this appears some distance from making an appearance on aircraft.

“We feel the fuel cell capability – the stack itself – is going to have to mature a lot more to get onto the architecture of the aircraft,” explains Smith.

The limitations, he says, are cost, weight and the volume of the fuel cell stack. “Unless the architecture of the aircraft changes, it’s not ready to go into there.

Possible uses include a replacement for the RAM air turbine “but does that really trade in all that well to replace on the simplest components with a higher degree of complexity?”, emergency back-up power, or a means of changing the power distribution completely. This would allow less power to be taken from the main engines, instead provided by “distributed fuel cells”.

“It is one of the areas we want to understand but we don’t think any of these are mature enough to go there.” An “aggressive” change to the electrical architecture would be required and then they “may start to buy their way on”, says Smith.

Source: Flight Daily News