Wireless system gets first airing on stored DC-10

Thales Avionics is preparing to complete the final phase of full-scale cabin tests of its TopSeries i-8000 wireless-based in-flight entertainment (IFE) system for the Boeing 787 in February, and is confident results to date bode well for tests with 300 representative "passengers".

The large-scale tests, conducted in conjunction with Boeing, have been taking place on board a stored McDonnell Douglas DC-10 at Marana, Arizona to determine how well the wireless IFE system responds to various interior configurations, passenger loads and antenna locations. The operability of the wireless system is pivotal to the flexible interior concept adopted by Boeing for the 787, and a cornerstone of its rapid interior reconfiguration plan allowing for easy relocation of seats, lavatories and later upgrades.

Tests on the Thales system, which has so far won six out of seven announced IFE selections on the 787 against competition from Panasonic's X-Series, are aimed at proving its capabilities to supply up to 2Mbytes/s to each seat simultaneously. Thales says sizing the system to this output supports Boeing's requirement to provide streaming video-on-demand simultaneously and independently for up to 300 passengers.

"We have tested the system with passengers, no passengers and simulated passengers," says Brad Foreman, vice-president and general manager of Thales Avionics. As well as real people, the tests used sacks of red potatoes acting as surrogate humans.

"These turned out to be the closet things to real humans in terms of water content and rates of absorption," says Foreman, who adds that interior bins and other features of the DC-10 were wrapped in carbon material to replicate the effect of the 787's all-composite structure.

Another DC-10 fuselage, which will also be internally treated with composite lining, is being installed at Thales' Irvine, California site, where it will be used as a 787 cabin mock-up for further engineering tests and customer demonstrations. Lab tests are also planned at a Boeing test site in Seattle, and flight tests are scheduled to start on the first of the 787s with a full interior in October 2007.

To support the 787 IFE development as well as an overall boom in TopSeries i-system sales, Thales is dramatically expanding its workforce and plans to add up to 200 new jobs in 2007, on top of 400 added over the past year. "We have grown at around 400% over the last two years," says Foreman.

How the system will work

All IFE head-end equipment on the 787 will be housed in a new sealed module - the cabin equipment centre (CEC) - in the bays located forward of the nose gear and aft of the wing.

Three or four head-end servers will be in the CECs, with roughly 100-125 seats per server. Each server is housed in a relatively small 4MCU-sized container and requires no active cooling.

Wireless data will be transmitted at the latest 802.11n standard, which is expected to be formally released in July 2007. Although tested at 2.4GHz in early configurations, the latest tests in October were at the higher 5GHz frequency to exploit its higher bandwidth capabilities.

The 802.11n standard builds on previous 802.11 standards by adding MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), which uses multiple transmitter and receiver antennas to increase data throughput and range. 

Source: Flight International