Demands on aerospace systems software are going up and up, believes Alex Wilson, senior programme manager for Californian-headquartered supplier Wind River. “It’s a continuing trend and it’s most marked in the unmanned vehicles,” he says
Wilson is here this week to talk to potential and existing customers. The latter include Dassault Aviation with its Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator, Airbus Military and the A400M military freighter, and Boeing with the 787.
With its 35% share, Wind River leads a market currently estimated at $250 million a year. On the 787 the company provides the operating system software for the Common Core System (CCS) avionics backbone. Third-party suppliers have produced no fewer than 60 applications to run on CCS - Wind River supported them over the last two years with development tools and access to relevant parts of the operating system.
“That software is pretty much delivered and in place on the first prototype,” says Wilson. “During the recent first power-up of the 787 the power management and electrical distribution systems were running off the CCS and everything worked perfectly, which was very good news for us. Our contribution did its job.”
Wind River is present in various A400M subsystems, including the identification friend or foe (IFF) system being developed by Intra of Spain. “Our software for the A400M is now going through final testing in preparation for first flight,” says Wilson. The four-turboprop heavy-lifter is now expected to take to the air for the first time in November.
Wilson is hopeful that Wind River will earn at least the same again as the value of the original contracts during the lifetimes of the 787 and A400M. “We tend not to earn very large amounts from maintenance and support – no more than 10-15%,” he explains. “But in the past we have seen customers replacing obsolescent hardware and deciding to upgrade our software at the same time. Such upgrades are usually treated as brand-new developments and tend to cost as much as the original.”
The company has also won business on several combat types, including the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Europe’s Typhoon and Gripen. “The F-35 is a good example of the way the dollar value of software is steadily increasing in advanced aircraft,” Wilson says. “Whereas previous-generation types might have had two million lines of code, the F-35 needs six or seven million – this is largely the result of requirements for system reconfiguration and retasking.”
The emergence of unmanned air vehicles into the military mainstream, with civil applications to come some time in the future, will further boost demand for the services of companies like Wind River and main rival Greenhill Software, Wilson believes. “When you move into that realm you see the software content pushed up another notch to support requirements such as autonomous operations,” he says.
Source: Flight International