The latest version of Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line integrated flight deck is rocketing down the runway, picking up new applications as it goes. Brendan Gallagher talks to the man responsible for turning contracts into installed hardware

“We’re pretty humble people here at Cedar Rapids,” says Denny Helgeson. “But we really did plan on winning all those programmes.” The general manager of Rockwell Collins’ Business and Regional Systems division is talking about Fusion, the latest incarnation of the Pro Line integrated cockpit and already an assured winner just six months after its launch at last year’s NBAA show in Dallas.

On that occasion, Collins announced that the system had been selected for Bombardier’s Global Express XRS and Global 5000. Since then there has been a rat-a-tat of new platform decisions: Cessna’s Citation Columbus, the Embraer MLJ and MSJ and, announced here this week, the Lear 85. There are more in the pipeline, according to Helgeson, and along the way Fusion has also found its way aboard the Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

Is this the fastest start ever for a new Pro Line version? “I’ve been around Collins for a long time, and one of the most overwhelming NBAAs I’ve ever had was last year’s,” says Helgeson. “It’s been non-stop ever since then - none of us can remember securing so many positions in such a short space of time as we have with Fusion.”

Over the years, the earlier Pro Lines – and competing products from Honeywell and new boys such as Garmin – have swept away hard-to-interpret clockwork and replaced it with a human interface that gives the pilot an ever clearer view of his situation and a more natural way of managing the aircraft. The result, everyone agrees, is reduced workload and improved safety.

Helgeson attributes all the fuss about Fusion to its ability do these things better than ever before, thanks to a combination of big, brilliant displays, powerful and tightly integrated sensors, and broadband information flow both around the aircraft and on and off it. “We’re building on the legacy that we created with previous Pro Lines,” he says. “Every few years we’ve had the chance to package up new technologies and create a new version. Fusion is the next chapter in the Pro Line story, incorporating some advances that will carry us well into the future.”

The first Bombardier Global pilots to sit down in front of Fusion will have no doubt they’ve got their hands on something new when they see the four 15in high-definition, landscape-format screens, one in front of each pilot, the other two stacked in the centre. “They form a human interface that’s graphically oriented, in terms both of how the crew interact with the system and how information is displayed, and offer highly intuitive control,” says Helgeson.

Serving up some of the most important information will be one of the most complete arrays of sensors and displays ever offered to business fliers – a head-up guidance system (HGS), along with infra-red-based enhanced vision (EVS) and computer-generated synthetic vision (SVS).

“Synthetic and enhanced vision will be some of the cornerstone functions,” says Helgeson. “And we have been able to integrate them closely with our head-up guidance system - the crew will be able to see EVS and SVS imagery both head-up and head-down, and the views will be very similar in the two modes.”

Collins describes Fusion as “information-enabled,” which means that it will benefit in real time from unprecedented volumes of data from both aircraft systems and ground databases. “Information will pass much more fluently not only within the system but also on to and off the aircraft,” explains Helgeson. “Using our satcoms and other datalink capabilities along with standard commercial interfaces, we will be able to flow things like maintenance information to and fro and upload new software and operating data.”

The company is now in the middle of integrating the system into the Bombardier Globals, aiming for first flights next year, certification in 2010 and entry into service a year after that. “As you might expect, not everything goes perfectly every day,” says Helgeson. “But we have been engineering this for some time and we’re on some pretty solid ground already, so I would expect that once we get through some initial growing pains we’ll be off to the races.”

The Globals are only the start of the story, however – how does Helgeson see his team coping with the workload involved in getting at least another half-dozen types through integration in the next few years?

“When it came to lining up resources we were very mindful of a couple of things right at the start,” he reflects. “First, we anticipated the timing of the various programmes that we were going after and made sure that we weren’t piling one on top of the other. Second, we scoped out the resources early so that we wouldn’t be behind the curve in terms of hiring people.”

Helgeson enjoys one natural advantage in the hiring game – the availability of talent from Rockwell Collins’ Air Transport division. “Our engineering resources are organised in technological skill areas rather than by business, and we have the luxury of being able to transfer people in from Air Transport,” he explains. “What’s more, if you look at the technologies behind Fusion you’ll see a lot of similarities with what we are doing in the air transport market. The 15in displays are basically the same as those we’re putting into the Boeing 787, for example.”

While one or two things could yet come out in the integration wash over the next few months, Helgeson is confident that his airframer customers are comfortable with what’s on offer. “We involved them in developing Fusion from the start to ensure that they would end up with what they really wanted,” he says. “We tailored the system so that it’s not one-size-fits-all.” Also contributing to OEM comfort is the decision to build Fusion around standard industry interfaces – “This will make it easy to add new features, some of them from third parties, in the future.”

Among the things that the immediate future holds for Fusion is integration with the company’s powerful long-range MultiScan weather radar. Proven in the air transport market and due to be available to existing Pro Line 21 users by the end of the year, MultiScan RTA-4100 is going through the FAA’s TSO process as a prelude to eventual certification with Fusion. “We expect to get the TSO next year, clearing the way for supplemental type certification on the various Fusion platforms,” says Helgeson.

Looking further ahead, he can see the day when Fusion hardware is available as a retrofit package for older aircraft types, just as Pro Line 21 forms the basis of the company’s increasingly successful IDS upgrade. “This allows operators of older aircraft to put LCD glass into their aircraft and to add new capabilities based on those displays. It’s certainly possible that we could in due course offer a similar package based on Fusion.”

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Source: Flight Daily News