Partners Cobham and Inmarsat are using the HAI Heli-Expo show to announce the availability of an enhanced satellite communications capability for helicopters, having overcome a transmission problem caused by fast-spinning rotors. The companies are promoting the enhancement for the first time at the 5-7 March event in Atlanta, Georgia.

Being offered to existing customers of Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband X-Stream service as a "free-of-charge software update" and to new buyers, the development follows successful testing of an SB-Helo version, using Cobham Aerospace Communications' Aviator SP equipment.

"Testing and planning took place from May to November 2018," says Cobham. A ground-test phase was performed in Austria during October using an adapted Airbus Helicopters H125 testbed, including with its rotors turning. "In-air testing was conducted over two days in November on two different helicopters, one in Austria and the other in Hungary."

The activity involved using a specially developed protocol during network quality-of-service selection. This resulted in a single-channel output of 430Kb/s being recorded, and the companies expect this to rise beyond a rate of 1Mb/s if an operator uses a four-channel configuration.

"The increased resilience of the data pipeline passing through the rotors means that the transmission of data like video will see an improvement in throughput of around 37%," the partners say.

Potential beneficiaries of the update include parapublic bodies such as search and rescue, medical evacuation and firefighting operators, plus police services, which will be able to relay high-rate video via satellite in support of their activities.

"It solves a really big challenge we've had for a long time," says Alex Holt, senior brand manager for Cobham's Aviator equipment portfolio. Pointing to the upgrade being offered to customers, he adds: "We hope people take the opportunity to get something for nothing."