Honeywell continues Zing trials

 - September 21, 2007, 6:24 AM

Since launching the Zing engine data-gathering service at last year’s NBAA Convention, Honeywell has been testing the system in a select group of customer airplanes in preparation for its official rollout. Zing eliminates the need for a mechanic to plug a laptop computer into an airplane to download engine operating data. It instead allows wireless transmission of engine information by tapping into the existing GSM/GPRS cellphone network. After landing, the pilot presses a button and Zing latches onto the network and automatically transmits the data from that flight to Honeywell’s technical operations center (TOC) in Phoenix.

In the first implementation of Zing, data from Honeywell TFE731-5BR engines is recorded from the digital electronic engine controllers (DEEC) and sent back to the manufacturer. The data is used for engine condition trend monitoring, to issue exception alerts for problems that are detected, for automated diagnostics checks and to share information with Honeywell engine experts and service centers.

None of this capability is necessarily new, except for the wireless data downloading, but Zing should make it easier for TFE731 operators to harvest useful information from their DEECs and proactively deal with problems before they affect safety or cause expensive problems. When data has to be downloaded via laptop for analysis, the amount of useful information that operators actually send to analysts is much lower than with automated systems. Adding the wireless dimension should help improve productivity, said Adrian Paull, Honeywell vice president of customer and product support. “[Zing] enhances the frequency and also the comprehensive nature of the data that’s collected,” he said.

Participating Zing operators can control who has access to their engines’ data. Honeywell supplies a security key to the operator, and the data is encrypted before it is sent to Honeywell’s TOC. The operator can view its own data or designate a third-party analyst or service center to receive it.

Honeywell is in the early stages of exploring all of Zing’s capabilities. The focus now is on the TFE731-5BR, and the company plans to expand the service first to operators with other TFE731 types this year and next. “Once we’ve established the technology and the platform,” Paull said, “there are a number of expansions that we could do.” A logical next step is setting up Honeywell APUs for Zing’s wireless transmission service, because Honeywell already offers monitoring services for APUs. From engines and APUs, it’s a short step into other aircraft systems that are already providing megabytes of digital data to onboard databuses and recording devices. “That’s an area of interest for us,” he said.

Honeywell is also willing to work with other systems manufacturers who would like to tap into Zing. “We’ve designed it to have a flexible architecture,” Paull said, “and it would allow us to have partnership opportunities if other equipment manufacturers wanted us to have similar capabilities for their products in the future. We have been a key integrator in the design and development of integrated systems, historically, so we know how to work collaboratively with a portfolio of system and subsystem providers.”

Future Zing iterations will be automated so that pilots don’t have to push a button to send data after landing, according to Paull. The system could be set up to transmit automatically when pilots set the parking brake or open the cabin door, or a signal from the Honeywell technical operators center could initiate the transmission. Paull said he doesn’t see a benefit for transmitting data while the airplane is flying. “We can gain significant knowledge and benefit from the performance during the last flight by drawing on the data after the aircraft has landed,” he said. “The systems are set up to update their built-in test records after the flight has been completed.”

Honeywell has not yet announced pricing for the Zing service, but it will likely be on an annual fee basis. Participants in Honeywell’s cost-per-hour maintenance service plan could have the option of adding Zing service.

Operators who have participated in Zing testing are enthusiastic about the service, Paull said. “The possibilities expand rapidly when you think about this toolset in the corporate market. This will provide a welcome visibility for directors of maintenance of corporate fleets, in terms of having assurance that the equipment is performing the way they would want it to.”