You may have seen the ads on TV. In one, for Buick, a fedora-wearing actor portraying the spirit of GM’s brilliant, but long-dead, head of styling tells the camera, “My name is Harley Earl, and I’ve come back to build you a great car.” For those of you who don’t know (and it’s a safe bet that many of you do not), Earl was GM’s first design chief, a man who for the better part of three decades, starting in 1927, shaped the cosmetic makeup of new models for the Detroit car company and in doing so rewrote the definition of style for the rest of the automobile industry as well. He was responsible for introducing to GM cars a vast compendium of styling details–most notably the tailfin (Earl was said to be fascinated by jets and airplane designs), bodyside portholes, two-tone paint and an abundance of chrome.
In another recent ad, this one for automaker Infiniti, the unseen narrator asks, “Where are the cars we were promised?” The reference is to those futuristic concept cars of the 1950s and 1960s–several of which, it was supposed, could drive and fly and even float–but none of which ever actually made it onto a production assembly line. Not surprisingly, it was GM’s forward-thinking Earl who developed the first concept car (at the time called a “dream car”), the 1938 Buick Y-Job, a two-seater that featured hidden headlights, power steering, flush door handles and even electric windows. The idea of the concept car would soon emerge within the auto industry as an essential sales and marketing device, thanks to GM’s virtuosic design chief and, some would say, consummate salesman. (Years later, Earl would convince a skeptical GM that it needed to build a sports car–the result of his persistent cajoling was the 1953 Corvette.)
Aviation has its concepts, too. Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser, a high-subsonic transport with a dramatically swept delta wing (recently shelved in favor of a more conventional design) is but the latest in a long list of examples. It is therefore not unrealistic to expect that pilots, echoing drivers, might wonder about the fate of new designs and technologies that were supposed to improve or otherwise radically alter the aircraft that have been plying the skies more or less unchanged for the past 20 years. In other words, where are the airplanes we were promised?
On the outside the typical new business jet continues to look quite familiar. On the inside, however, there are stark differences. The latest iterations of Dassault’s Falcon 900EX and 2000EX and Gulfstream’s 550, for example, are outfitted with cockpits that would seem totally foreign to pilots flying early business aviation steeds such as the Gulfstream I. These modern, fully integrated avionics systems, featuring large liquid-crystal displays for portraying tiled menus (similar to Windows on a PC) and allowing the pilots to move a mouse-like cursor crosshair around seamlessly from one display to another, usher in a new era for civil aviation.
These latest integrated systems from Honeywell allow the pilot and his airplane to interact as never before. In designing their respective cockpits, Dassault chose a trackball cursor device and Gulfstream a thumb pad (similar to an inverted coolie hat) for performing a variety of functions, from tuning radios and selecting headings to planning a flight by picking waypoints on the system’s FMS pages and enticingly vivid moving maps. Far from serving as the mere concepts for what might one day make it onto the flight decks of modern business airplanes, these cockpits have already undergone extensive flight testing and, in fact, are being fitted in new airplanes under construction, which are on the verge of being handed over to their new owners.
The emerging trend over the last few years toward integrated cockpit systems has led to important changes in the way avionics manufacturers are approaching the market. Rather than designing cockpits from scratch and then trying to sell their ideas to the OEMs, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins today allow airframe makers to apply their own unique philosophies to cockpit integration. The avionics manufacturers still make suggestions and offer guidance, but in the end most of the decisions about how information will be presented and the overall layout of the cockpit are left to the airframe maker.
It’s So EASy
In Dassault’s case, the French business jet manufacturer wanted a cockpit that would provide a level of “harmony” between the pilots, so it designed a pilot-centric flight deck with all controls, knobs and the cursor controls positioned between the crew, where either pilot is able to monitor what the other is doing. It was up to Honeywell to listen to what Dassault was saying and then develop a cockpit based on the OEM’s vision.
The result is EASy (enhanced avionics system), arguably one of the most advanced cockpits ever contemplated for civil aircraft. Based on Honeywell’s Primus Epic integrated architecture, the concept has long been in the development phase. Before testing of EASy in a real airplane ever began, Dassault made extensive use of a Honeywell-built development tool called TRACS (tool for rapid advanced cockpit simulation), a ground-based demonstrator that allowed engineers to try out new ideas and then make changes quickly and inexpensively. Falcon customers, as well as pilots from Air France and Airbus, flew EASy in the prototyping simulator and provided input that was used to improve the interface between man and machine. The final version of the system is about to be certified in the Falcon 900EX and has just begun test flights in the reengineered Falcon 2000EX.
EASy consists of four large-format (14.1-inch) displays in a “T” layout. Together the screens provide twice the viewing surface area of the baseline Falcon 900EX and are equivalent to that of the Boeing 777. To increase dispatch reliability of airplanes fitted with the system, departures are allowed with one EASy display inoperative. The pilot can remove the inoperative display and exchange it with another so that the upper bar of the “T” is working. The information that was displayed on the inoperative screen can be transferred to the remaining LCDs. Alternatively, the aircraft can carry a spare screen to swap out should a failure occur. In case of a further failure in flight the crew can continue with just two displays. (Both EASy and Gulfstream’s PlaneView cockpit systems are equipped with electronic standby instrumentation, but neither system has electromechanical backups.)
When Dassault first began designing the flight deck, its own pilots wanted to keep all four displays in line because, the business jet maker reasoned, it allowed them to keep their heads up. But the manufacturer also wanted to do away with the practice of producing left- and right-side cockpits, so a compromise was made to place one screen in front of each pilot and two screens in the middle as a common workspace. Short-term information is displayed on the two primary display units (PDUs) in front of the pilots, while longer-term information such as the navigation map and system synoptic views are displayed on the central screens.
The EASy cursor control device (CCD) features a large handgrip with buttons on each side and the trackball facing forward. A knob next to the CCD can by used to scroll through various menus or to tune radios. An alphanumeric keypad can be used as
another way to enter waypoints. The multifunction keyboard (MKB) also includes shortcut buttons to functions such as EGPWS terrain inhibit, squawk identification or “direct to” commands.
Early in the design of EASy Dassault decided that the pilots should use the displays and CCDs for all input functions, a choice that obviated the need for separate FMS displays. Shortcut keys were subsequently added after tests using TRACS showed their usefulness. A small readout was also added to the MKB so the pilot could keep his eyes on the keys while typing.
Each EASy display can be divided into four windows, much like a PC. The trackball allows the pilot to move his individual cursor, a large crosshair, among three of the displays (but not to the other pilot’s PDU). The cursor glides from one screen to the next, allowing the pilot to look forward at the displays, rather than down at an FMS screen. When both cursors are in the same display, only the moving one is active. General and contextual menus allow access to user-friendly FMS functions. The pilot can use either the waypoint list or the digital map to create the flight plan.
Terrain, weather and TCAS information can be displayed on the same map, in addition to flight-plan details. A vertical situation display also shows possible interference between terrain and the flight path. The map can be oriented north or by aircraft heading.
Nothing Plain about PlaneView
Gulfstream’s PlaneView cockpit also makes use of four 14.1-inch displays and is based on the Honeywell Primus Epic architecture, but from a pilot’s perspective it is anything but a me-too cockpit. In 1995 Gulfstream began discussions with Honeywell about replacing ideas formed during development of traditional display technology with a totally new study of formats and functions. PlaneView builds on the capabilities of the Honeywell SPZ-8000 series while introducing many new features and functions, including interactive navigation (INav), CCDs and the Kollsman-built enhanced vision system, which interfaces with the G550’s (nee GV-SP) Honeywell 2020 HUD.
In creating PlaneView, Gulfstream invited the input of experienced Gulfstream pilots, both from its customer ranks and the FAA. In the lab, engineers gathered pilot reactions to the displays and graphics-interface hardware, choosing an inline layout for the displays as opposed to Dassault’s “T.” Later, Gulfstream sought pilot feedback at its integrated test facility in Savannah, Ga., where the developers mounted a full-scale PlaneView mockup and refined the integration of avionics with airframe system controls, engine instruments and other components.
During hundreds of hours of testing, Gulfstream discovered that pilots preferred less data on the screens for higher situational awareness. So Gulfstream worked with Honeywell to eliminate screen clutter. Gulfstream also found that pilots became distracted when too many colors were used. By choosing conventional color schemes it was able to minimize the total number of colors displayed. The manufacturer also decided that to reduce the potential for confusion from too many on-screen icons, it would streamline the displays wherever possible with clear symbols, words and common abbreviations.
Middle of the Road
On a scale where the low end represents a conservative philosophy toward flight-deck design and the high end tends toward more radical concepts, the major business aircraft OEMs all end up somewhere in the middle. Dassault, with EASy, is perhaps a few notches closer to the radical end of the spectrum, while Gulfstream, with the PlaneView cockpit, is probably only a little lower on the scale. Bombardier, which has yet to apply the far-reaching Honeywell concepts in its cockpit designs, tips toward the conservative side.
It’s difficult to say at this early stage whose approach is better or worse–time will tell whether pilots truly appreciate the new approach to cockpit design–but Dassault and Gulfstream certainly have taken risks by insisting on cockpits that are several steps more advanced than the traditional business jet flight deck.
There are a few areas where changes are coming in which most pilots are in agreement, one of the major ones being that paper approach charts should be digitized and portrayed on the displays. Jeppesen and Honeywell have announced an alliance whereby Jeppesen’s integrated navigation data service will be offered to users of Honeywell INav avionics, which is under development for the PlaneView and EASy cockpits. Rockwell Collins has developed similar technology for its Pro Line 21 and Pro Line 21 Continuum (for retrofit applications) cockpits. The electronic Jeppesen charts will be presented to pilots on a cockpit moving-map display. Pilots can also choose to depict navigation aids, airways, airspace boundaries, airports and runways.
For all the benefits modern cockpit automation has to offer, there is a dubious side as well. Just like the giant tailfins and rocket-pod taillights on GM’s 1959 Cadillac, one has to wonder how much innovation–bells and whistles–is really necessary. To put it another way, when do the tools in the cockpit cease being tools and start impeding the pilots’ ability to do his job effectively?
To their credit, Dassault and Gulfstream brought pilots into the design loop early on, making for more intuitive flight-deck systems. FlightSafety International also had a hand in the design processes, and the result appears to be that the training provider will be able to offer customer pilots a curriculum better suited to the complexities of operating the modern systems.
In surveys pilots have said they retain only about 80 percent of what they learn during FMS training, and in day-to-day operations are proficient using far fewer functions. Over time pilot proficiency using the FMS reaches a high level for routine functions, but drops off markedly for skills that are used less often. The challenge with EASy and PlaneView was in coming up with concepts so intuitive that once the pilot learned the system in the classroom and simulator, he would continue to possess a high level of understanding and proficiency through to recurrent training.
Even further to the right on the scale of what would be considered a radical cockpit advancement is synthetic vision, major programs for which are under way at Rockwell Collins and Universal Avionics. Synthetic vision provides a three-dimensional “virtual view” of terrain that is intended to increase pilot situational awareness both in normal and low-visibility operations. The Rockwell Collins Advanced Technology Center, in partnership with NASA’s Langley Research Center and Jeppesen, for the past few years has been busy developing the terrain database that supports a prototype synthetic-vision system (SVS).
In 2000, with the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor and its 11-day Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), analysts at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) began using actual data of the earth’s surface to generate 3-D topographic maps of the earth, which Collins engineers believe can be used in the design of an SVS for civil aircraft.
Last spring Boeing tested the Rockwell Collins SVS in a specially modified 737-900 technology demonstrator. The Collins flight-display system provided a conformal view of the world outside using the airplane’s EGPWS database to paint a picture of terrain, obstructions and airports. Highway-in-the-sky software then drew a series of boxes on the displays that appeared to stay fixed in the sky as the airplane flew along its course. To stay on track the pilot needed only to fly through the boxes. This tunnel created by the boxes curved, tilted, rose or descended as the airplane flew along, allowing the pilot to hand fly a remarkably precise course from takeoff to touchdown.
Troy Brekken, a Boeing technology analyst, said the type of advanced system Rockwell Collins has fielded represents a “revolutionizing opportunity” for aviation that could one day dramatically curb the CFIT accident rate. With the early indicators showing such promise, some believe an SVS will be certified and approved for everyday use in the very near future.
If all goes according to plan, Universal Avionics believes its SVS could be approved for commercial use this fall. Begun nearly three years ago as a major engineering initiative at the company’s headquarters in Arizona and at its engineering centers in Redmond, Wash., and Norcross, Ga., Universal’s Cockpit 1 SVS applies sophisticated software and computer processor technology to drive images on the company’s own line of large full-color flight displays, which are intended to replicate clear, sunny conditions no matter what the actual weather outside the aircraft happens to be.
Unlike enhanced vision, which uses infrared cameras or millimeter wave radar to peer through clouds and fog, Universal’s SVS creates a computer-game-like world, similar to the illusory scene presented by modern commercial flight simulators.
Last summer Universal became the first avionics maker to certify a synthetic-vision system, though not for presentation on the PFD. Portrayed on a Universal MFD 640 multifunction display, the company’s Vision 1 system as certified provides crews with an “exocentric” view of their position, that is, an external view of their aircraft replicating that of a camera sight showing the airplane from a spot behind, to the right and slightly above.
The terrain-based 3-D depiction of Vision 1 shows the aircraft on the MFD relative to nearby terrain and its flight plan. Although the Vision 1 view is approved only for situational awareness, and not navigation, it is unique in that it is the first FAA-approved iteration of SVS.
Vision 1 is the result of several key technologies–including TAWS, computer processors, software technology and active- matrix flat-panel displays–applied to a single task: enhancing pilot situational awareness. The $38,000 system is designed to interface with Universal’s TAWS, and must be used with the MFD 640 display, both of which are sold separately.
Next on the agenda is certification of the full “egocentric” view of Vision 1, the portrayal of a synthetic view of the world on the PFD. Once both views have been certified, Universal plans to concentrate on certifying the system for use with its large-format EFI 890 displays, flight testing of which has begun. Assuming testing goes smoothly, Universal anticipates full certification of the display and Vision 1 ADI by September.
Enhanced vision is a technology that is quickly proving its worth. The Gulfstream 400 recently became the latest civil airplane approved to fly with an enhanced vision system (EVS), namely the $500,000 infrared sensor package developed by Kollsman of Merrimack, N.H. Designed for integration with the G400’s Honeywell 2020 HUD and SPZ-8400 avionics suite, the All Weather Window EVS consists of a FLIR camera mounted in the airplane’s nose and a computer processor that overlays the infrared image onto the HUD.
The system allows pilots to see runways, taxiways and surrounding terrain through fog, clouds and darkness. In addition to the anticipated safety benefits, EVS-equipped aircraft can be approved to land at lower-than-standard weather minimums. To date, Gulfstream has fitted 20 G500/550s with EVS. The airframe manufacturer plans to install the first EVS in a customer G400 early next year.
Kollsman recently unveiled its latest IR-based EVS product, called Night Window. Targeted at operators seeking a lower-cost way to improve situational awareness, the new sensor uses an uncooled IR camera to provide images on a raster HUD or MFD in VFR night or day operations. The $80,000 system can be fitted on smaller aircraft to project a look-ahead image of the real world.
Bombardier and Cessna, meanwhile, each have announced they will soon be adding EVS capability to select models. In Bombardier’s case, the OEM’s Global Express is to begin flight testing an IR sensor system developed by CMC Electronics and Thales. Texas Instruments’ flight department is the launch customer for the system, scheduled for certification in early 2005.
Bombardier said EVS will be offered as a standard feature on all new Global Express production airplanes delivered as of 2005 and will be available for retrofit through the Bombardier Business Aviation Services network. Price has yet to be fixed, but is expected to be on par with the Kollsman All Weather Window EVS.
Cessna, meanwhile, has selected Max-Viz of Portland, Ore., to provide a dual-sensor EVS as an option aboard the Citation X and Sovereign. The Max-Viz EVS-2000 will be offered this year on new and in-service Citation Xs, said Cessna, and on the Sovereign when it becomes available late this year. Pricing for the system has yet to be determined.
Preparing for RVSM
While enhanced vision for most operators would likely fit in the “nice to have” category, there is an array of equipment that business jet operators will need to carry starting in the next couple of years whether they like it or not. By mid-2005 operators will have to buy and install a variety of additional–and in many cases expensive–avionics, intended to increase capacity or enhance safety. Among the additional equipment being required in the U.S. and Europe are upgraded air-data computers and altimeters for reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM), now in effect in over the North Atlantic, Europe and a handful of other places, and coming to the U.S. and Southern Canada in January 2005.
By far the most difficult of the new mandates from compliance and cost standpoints, RVSM is designed to compress the vertical spacing between airplanes operating in the higher flight levels from the traditional 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet. Implementation of RVSM in the North Atlantic Tracks began in spring 1997. After a successful trial period, full RVSM between FL290 and FL410 inclusive was introduced to the North Atlantic, followed by implementation over the Pacific, Australia, Europe and Northern Canada.
Installation centers are reporting an increase in demand for installation and testing of RVSM gear. As the U.S. and Canadian deadlines draw near, more installers are adding RVSM to their list of competencies. Recently, Annapolis, Md.-based Arinc formed a new division, called Arinc Direct, to focus on the business aviation market. According to an Arinc spokesman, the entity will provide services tailored to business aircraft operators. At the top of that menu is a complete line of RVSM approval support services, including the physical modifications needed to meet the requirements.
Upgrades can be performed at Arinc’s recently expanded service center in Colorado Springs, Colo. In addition, Arinc can prepare an operator’s complete RVSM approval package before submittal to the FAA and schedule monitoring test flights from sites around the U.S. and Canada. Arinc Direct also provides flight-support services and datalink communications equipment and is developing a satellite-based broadband Internet service for business jets called SkyLink.
Another new entrant now performing RVSM approval work is Jet Source, based at McClellan-Palomar Airport north of San Diego. The list of aircraft for which the company can perform needed avionics upgrades includes the Beechjet 400A, Hawker 800/ 1000, King Air B200/300, Challenger 600 series, Falcon 20 and 50 and Gulfstream III.
Duncan Aviation recently certified and installed a complete Rockwell Collins FDS-2000 flight display system in a Hawker 700, while simultaneously certifying and installing dual IS&S (Innovative Solutions & Support), ADDUs (the air-data components of Duncan’s Hawker 700 RVSM program) and dual Collins AHS-3000S AHRS. Performed at Duncan’s Lincoln, Neb. maintenance center, the installation also included Honeywell CAS-66A TCAS I and Universal TAWS and MFD-640.
The FDS-2000 is the flight-display component of the Collins Pro Line 21 Continuum package. In the Hawker 700 it consists of four large-format LCDs capable of showing TAWS/EGPWS, TCAS and other navigation information, as well as additional features for future CNS (communication, navigation and surveillance) capabilities. An optional 2000 MFD from Collins supports terrain, FMS navigation maps, TCAS II and turbulence-detection weather radar.
Other airframes in Duncan Aviation’s RVSM program include the Astra 1125 and 1125SP, Challenger 600, Falcon 50 with Pro Line 21, Gulfstream II, JetStar II and 731, and Westwind 1124 and 1124A. Duncan also performs OEM RVSM service bulletin upgrades for Bombardier and Cessna.
Garrett Aviation has also been actively pursuing RVSM approvals. To date the company has developed upgrade packages for the Gulfstream II,/IIB, Cessna Citation 500 series, Falcon 10/100, Falcon 20 and Falcon 50. The FAA most recently certified Garrett’s RVSM package for Falcon 10s and 100s equipped with the Collins APS-80 avionics suite, a compliance package that includes dual ADC-87A digital air-data computers; ALI-80A altimeter; two-inch standby altimeter; and Rosemount dual-temperature probe.
A new package for Falcon 10s and 100s with the AP-105 autopilot uses avionics from IS&S and includes dual air-data display units; air-data sensor unit; and the two-inch standby altimeter. An option for a second air-data sensor unit and a Rosemount temperature probe is being offered.
Good as New Cockpit
Stevens Aviation of Greenville, S.C., is counting on loyal King Air 200 owners who have no intention of upgrading to a jet but would like to improve the performance of their aging turboprops to bring their airplanes in for cockpit, engine and performance upgrades. Low-time used King Air 200s can currently be found for about $1 million. Adding an engine upgrade at a cost of $1 million, an avionics upgrade at another $1 million, and performance enhancement core package from Raisbeck Engineering for $100,000 gives the customer the performance and avionics equivalent of a King Air B200. (A new B200 is priced at about $4.6 million.)
Stevens recently received a contract from the U.S. Army to convert the cockpits of 19 C-12s (the Army equivalent of the King Air 200) from analog to glass. With this contract in hand, which is the largest in Stevens’ 52-year history, the company anticipates “substantial” demand for a similar upgrade among the operators of some 800 to 850 civilian-equivalent King Air 200s in service worldwide.
Work on the first two Army aircraft began last year and has been proceeding on schedule. The process involves removing the old analog instruments and replacing them with new Collins FDS 2000s with five five-inch flat-screen displays, Collins ADC 3000 air-data computers, Collins turbulence and weather radar, Collins TCAS, Honeywell EGPWS, cockpit voice and data recorders from L-3, Collins 400A GPS and new mode-S transponders.
For a civilian King Air 200, the avionics upgrade is priced at about $1 million uninstalled, depending on the age of the aircraft. The work can be performed at Stevens’ headquarters facility at Donaldson Center Industrial Airpark in Greenville. The first Army C-12 rolled into the Stevens hangar on September 15 and, at the rate of two airplanes every 10 weeks, the last airplane in this contract will be delivered next spring. Stevens is already receiving civilian inquiries about the upgrade and anticipates a ready market among civilian owners of King Air 200s, in particular those whose aircraft have already had the PT6A-42 engine upgrade.
Elliott Aviation, meanwhile, recently announced gaining an STC for the installation of Universal Avionics’ flat-panel integrated displays (FPIDs) for the Learjet 35A. The STC covers four EFI-550 displays, as well as a Universal MFD-640 multifunction display and TAWS. Various FMS, navigation, radar and traffic sensors can interface with the MFD-640 or the EFI-550.
Elliott points out that the upgrade is a suitable match for the space-challenged nose avionics bay of the Learjet 35A, a self-contained space not conducive to installing heavy remote equipment as is typical with older EFIS mods. Elliott Aviation recently certified an FPID installation in a King Air 200 and has been progressing toward similar approvals for the Falcon 10 and Hawker 700A.
In the Hawker 700As, Elliott just announced an STC for a program centering around the replacement of the existing electromechanical flight instrumentation and iron gyros with the new Collins Continuum FDS-2000 PFDs and dual AHC-3000 AHRS. Multiple STCs were actually issued for the system installation, which includes five FDS-2000 PFDs, WXR-850 doppler radar, dual AHC-3000 AHRS, TCAS-4000 and EGPWS. Additional equipment installed in the certification aircraft included RVSM certification, 8.33-kHz radios, mode-S transponders, dual FMS and an ELT.
West Star Aviation of Grand Junction, Colo., recently signed an agreement with Garrett Aviation Services to purchase and install the latter’s RVSM package in the Citation 500 series. The package, now available for all straight-wing Citations except the first 275 serial numbers and S550, consists of two IS&S “P” modules, an IS&S analog/digital autopilot interface unit and an installation kit.
West Star is also working to obtain an STC for RVSM approval in the Learjet 30 series. The equipment package, scheduled for availability in June, includes Honeywell’s AZ-252 air-data computer, AM-250 altimeter and BA-250 altimeter display.
Midcoast Aviation also recently received RVSM group certification from the FAA for the Hawker 700. To date the company has installed the needed upgrade equipment in six Hawkers, having worked with Collins for the equipment package and with Kohlman Systems Research (KSR) for flight test data and operator approval support.
Midcoast’s group certification STC applies to Hawker 700As and -Bs equipped with Collins Pro Line II avionics. The RVSM package ranges from $150,000 to $240,000, depending on when operators reserve their spot and the level of modification required, and takes one to four weeks for installation. Midcoast said it already has “numerous” Hawkers scheduled for the equipment upgrades.
In addition to RVSM work, the installation centers mentioned above can handle a variety of additional equipment needs relating to other FAA and international mandates, such as the looming requirements for TAWS, ELTs and TCAS II/ACAS.
In-flight Weather Data
Airborne access to weather information is a hot topic with pilots now, and for good reason. In the last year several companies have joined the fray to supply affordable and reliable in-flight weather data hardware and services. WSI last month announced the first delivery and installation of its new WSI InFlight datalink weather system, in the cockpit of a Cessna Citation 501/SP. WSI InFlight provides current observed and forecast conditions, as well as WSI NOWrad, a high-quality mosaic of the national Nexrad ground-based Doppler radar system.
The WSI InFlight system is based on a continuous broadcast from a geosynchronous satellite network that delivers complete, uninterrupted continental U.S. signal reception at any altitude. This “ever-on” system provides an advantage over current ground-based weather datalink systems, WSI claims, which have inconsistent signal coverage in large portions of the U.S. and at various altitudes. Hardware, consisting of the datalink receiver and low-profile satellite antenna, sells for a list price of $3,000 if used with a laptop PC or electronic flight bag computing device and $5,000 if used with a panel-mounted multifunction display. The service fee is $49 per month.
Satellink Technologies, a Dulles, Va. weather data service provider, recently began offering the Merlin airborne weather system, which provides high-resolution weather graphics and notams supplied by Jeppesen. Like WSI’s Inflight service, content is delivered through Merlin in a continuous stream, although Merlin uses both satellite and terrestrial links. Maps supplied through the subscription service include GOES infrared visible and composite satellite images; Nexrad two-kilometer base reflectivity; Nexrad echo tops; sigmets; icing reports; turbulence reports; wind and temperature aloft forecasts; Metars; TAFs; airmets; and pireps.
Originally a project within Orbital Sciences, Satellink Technologies was created as a spin-off company two years ago. Company spokespeople said technological advances have increased the system’s bandwidth to 50- to 60 kbps, allowing Merlin also to deliver IFR traffic information, through the ASD datastream, airport and FBO information, including fuel prices and updated news and sports scores. The service is compatible with PDAs, cockpit portable displays and MFDs. Price for the hardware, according to a spokesman, is $3,500 and includes the first year of service. Monthly subscriptions after the first year cost $45.
Avidyne offers a datalink weather service to buyers of its line of FlightMax general aviation MFDs. The DX50 datalink transceiver is compatible with the Orbcomm low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite system, through which pilots receive Nexrad imagery and graphic and text Metars. Avidyne is both the service and hardware provider for the service.
The Orbcomm satellite network is already in place and operational, providing all-altitude coverage across the continental U.S. for the last four years. Unlike some of the newer satellite and terrestrial datalink services now coming online, Orbcomm is a request/reply service, meaning that the user must initiate a link with the satellite to receive a weather download instead of receiving data automatically.
Echo Flight, a Boulder, Colo.-based prov-ider of satellite weather data and a reseller of Orbcomm services, has been offering datalink graphical weather to users of its Flight Cheetah portable displays since December 1998. Since service inauguration the company claims more than 350,000 messages have been delivered to users, who pay a monthly subscription fee starting at $25. For that price, users receive a certain number of downloads, after which updates cost $1 each. Higher-priced service packages provide more downloads.
Meteorlogix, formerly DTN Weather Services, serves as the weather provider for Echo Flight. Included are Nexrad images within 500 nm of aircraft position, graphical Metar presentations of ceilings, visibility and reported weather observations at nearby airports and full Metar text. The service also provides a graphical wind speed/direction interface and temperature/dewpoint spreads for nearby airports.
Garmin sells the GDL 49 weather datalink receiver. The $3,495 data radio interfaces with the GNS 400 and 500 series displays to provide the standard menu of Nexrad images and Metars through the Orbcomm network. Buyers receive weather by signing up for a subscription to the Echo Flight service.
Bendix/King’s Wingman service, meanwhile, is a broadcast weather network, which delivers data through FAA Flight Information Service (FIS) ground stations based at airports throughout the country. The KDR 510 datalink receiver and antenna system ($5,500 list price) allows users to access text Metars, TAFs and pireps for free as well as Nexrad images for a fee. Weather can be displayed either on the KMD 550 or KMD 850 MFDs and is part of the Bendix/King Integrated Hazard Awareness System (IHAS). Honeywell offers three subscription packages for graphical weather downloads: the $49.95-a-month plan provides unlimited access to regional and national Nexrad images; the $69.95-a-month plan includes all graphical Nexrad products and two optional weather products; and the $89.95-a-month plan includes all Nexrad products and all optional products.
Another intriguing option for datalink weather is a service called Anywhere Wx, which is compatible with the AirCell airborne cellular telephone system. Uploads of weather data using AirCell’s just announced Flight Guardian service take about one minute per map. Hardware required to interface with the system is an AirCell AGT.01, AT.02 or AGT.02 telephone system, the AirCell Guardian 1000 data receiver and a display–an MFD, handheld flight display or a PDA.
Service packages for Anywhere Wx through AirCell are rolled into calling plans, monthly pricing for which starts at $29.95 and rises in increments to $499.95. With the basic $29.95 service, users receive five minutes of included cellular minutes with additional minutes charged at $1.99 each. The next pricing schedule, the bronze plan, is $59.95 per month and includes 25 minutes of airtime with additional minutes charged at $1.75 each. The silver plan is $99.99 and includes 60 minutes of airtime, with additional minutes costing $1.75. The gold plan is $169.95 per month and includes 120 minutes of airtime, again, with additional minutes charged at $1.75 each. Finally, for $499.95 a month the platinum plan provides unlimited minutes. With all the plans subscribers can use their minutes for weather downloads, voice communications, e-mail or any combination of the three.
Among the most important announcements in the cabin avionics industry were the recent acquisitions by Rockwell Collins of IFE specialist Airshow and Honeywell of Baker Electronics, both established players that are well positioned in niche areas.
Collins’ new Airshow 21 product family includes high-speed Internet connectivity, entertainment through DVD, CD and satellite TV and cabin-environment controls with simplified user interfaces. A main ingredient of the Airshow 21 service mix is air-to-ground data connectivity for secure, high-speed airborne access to e-mail, the Internet and videoconferencing. The system also provides interfaces for file sharing and standard office equipment, including printers, fax machines and scanners.
An optional local-area network (LAN) allows multiple users to access the system and connect to ground-based networks at the home office. The system can be enhanced through the addition of a wireless LAN, said Collins, permitting users to maintain network connections while moving around inside the cabin.
Buyers may choose to install a system that allows Internet browsing, or they can elect to store pre-packaged information such as news, weather and sports on an onboard file server updated regularly using the satcom system and Inmarsat’s Swift64 service.
The entertainment features of Airshow 21 allow passengers to select and control a number of in-flight systems, including multiple VCRs, DVD players, satellite TV and multi-disc CD changers. The system is also designed to support advanced capabilities such as audio/video-on-demand and real-time news, information, weather and entertainment content from a variety of sources, including the Collins Airshow Network, satellite TV systems and, as audio and video content becomes available, digital movie and audio programming. Collins Airshow 21, said the company, also gives passengers and crew the ability to manage various environmental systems in the cabin, galley and lavatory, including temperature, lighting and water.
Satellite-direct TV continues to be a strong seller and was boosted recently with the announcement that programming has been expanded to include the Middle East with 25 premium channels. Airshow now sells the multi-region Tailwind 550 satellite TV system, introduced at the NBAA show, which can be configured for use in multiple zones (the U.S., Europe and the Middle East) and with as many as eight onboard receivers.
The Airshow 21 “global office solution” includes Collins SAT-906 satcom linking through Swift64. The Aero-H+ data service provides six channels for multiple laptop hookups and is supported by 60-watt HPA and 64-kbps bidirectional data that Collins said is expandable to 128 kbps.
Among the first hard examples of Collins’ vision will be the cabin of Bombardier’s new Global 5000, scheduled to make its first flight soon. Bombardier and Collins jointly announced they are developing a new integrated cabin for the Canadian-built jet. Airshow 21 in that airplane will include an Ethernet-based LAN, providing users with Internet connections and access to printers, fax and a file server, while wireless connections will permit passengers to move around the cabin and tap into the network with their laptop computers.
The Global 5000 will be one of the first jets to take advantage of the audio/video-on-demand services for digital music and movie content tailored to the passengers’ preferences. Collins’ new HST-900 high-speed data terminal will provide the link to the Internet.
Collins Airshow 21, the company said, will also allow Global 5000 passengers and crew to manage various environmental systems from centralized control panels. Temperature, lighting, water and waste systems will all be within easy access for the cabin, lavatory and the galley. Servicing and maintenance will be improved with the design of specialized diagnostic equipment, said Collins.
Not to be outdone, Honeywell in January made news by purchasing the assets of cabin avionics specialist Baker Electronics. John Uczekaj, Honeywell executive vice president and general manager for business, regional and general aviation avionics, said the business is being renamed Honeywell Cabin Management Systems and Services. It will remain based in Sarasota, Fla., and be headed by Tim Swords, most recently Honeywell director of new business development for business, regional and general aviation markets.
Uczekaj said the unit’s focus would initially be directed toward development of a line of products and services for airborne access to e-mail, the Internet and audio/video conferencing. The acquisition by Honeywell of a cabin IFE specialist should position the company to better compete against rival Rockwell Collins, which itself recently added to its cabin avionics stable with the purchase of Airshow, a maker of IFE, moving-map and airborne satellite TV systems. Baker Electronics is best known for its cabin-management devices, cockpit audio systems, LCD flat-panel screens and moving-map systems.
Honeywell recently unveiled a new service called ePaxx, which it said has been developed to provide business jet passengers with quick access to e-mail, news, stock quotes and moving maps, even in aircraft that do not have high-speed data connections to the Internet. The new service, said the company, is available for any aircraft that has an airborne telephone and 115-volt, 60-Hz power source. The only additional hardware items that are needed to take advantage of ePaxx are a customer-supplied notebook PC, network router and connecting cables, all of which can be carried on the airplane–and all available at consumer electronics stores for about $2,000. The service uses Honeywell’s own Inflightmail e-mail offering, and in addition provides an international text news service, a stock-price service and the passenger moving map, which will be added to the lineup early next year. The service works in any business aircraft equipped with Inmarsat or Airsat satphone systems or Magnastar terrestrial-link telephone systems.
Office in the Sky
Inmarsat’s Swift 64 airborne data service provides a bidirectional 64-kbps datalink to and from aircraft flying in most areas of the world. Teledyne Controls seeks to bring modern office connectivity to globally operated corporate aircraft with its SmartCabin Office product and service mix, which can work with Swift64 or the company’s MagnaStar Telephone system, now installed in more than 3,000 corporate aircraft. Using the dual-channel HSD-128 high-speed data satcom, produced by EMS Technologies, SmartCabin can provide bidirectional data connection rates up to 128 kbps, the fastest connection speeds currently available to typical business jet operators.
Higher speed services from a number of suppliers are also in development. Gulfstream recently announced its intention to buy 40 of Arinc’s new SkyLink airborne broadband data systems for customer aircraft. This was the launch order for the system, which Arinc claims offers Internet connections that are five times faster and a third the price of Swift64. Tom Mullan, Arinc senior director for in-flight passenger systems, said SkyLink is now achieving connection rates of around 540 kbps. The company plans to sell monthly subscription packages similar in concept to those offered in the cellphone market, equating to connection costs of around $3.33 per minute, said Mullan.
Boeing’s new Connexion satellite Internet service in January began operating in revenue passenger service aboard a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 flying daily between Frankfurt, Germany, and Washington Dulles International Airport. After an initial free three-month trial period ends, users will have to start paying connection fees of about $35, which will allow unlimited use during the en route portion of the flight. The service, which Lufthansa has branded FlyNet, allows passengers to use their own laptop computers to tap directly into the Internet, where they can surf the Web, send and receive e-mail attachments and shop online. Available on airplanes the size of the BBJ or larger, connection speeds have been consistently demonstrated in the area of 128 kbps, or about four times as fast as a dial-up modem. Lufthansa, the inaugural airline customer for Connexion, intends to equip some 80 Boeing 747-400s and Airbus A330/340s with the service beginning in the middle of next year.
Broomfield, Colo.-based AirCell, meanwhile, has introduced two new airborne telecommunications products based on Iridium satcom technology. The first, the AST 3500, combines an air-to-ground cellphone with an Iridium satellite receiver and antenna, while the second, the ST 3100, relies exclusively on the Iridium link. Deliveries of the new products, said AirCell, are scheduled to begin next month. The $26,995 AST 3500 consists of a remote transceiver unit, cellular and Iridium antennas and as many as nine handsets per installation. The ST 3100, priced at $19,995, includes the Iridium-based transceiver, patch-style Iridium antenna and two flush-mount handsets. Both systems are designed for retrofit with most AirCell installations, said the company. Iridium’s satellite network covers the entire planet with low-cost voice and data service, while the AirCell cellular network covers most major IFR routes in the continental U.S.
AirCell also reports it is in the midst of developing airborne hardware that would essentially turn the aircraft into a flying cellular relay tower, letting anyone inside place calls using a regular analog-based cellphone. A small onboard receiver/translator would pick up the cellphone’s signals and transmit them to cellular ground stations without disrupting calls below. Testing of the concept is scheduled to start next year, with a launch perhaps coming as early as this fall.
The new service, which has yet to pass regulatory muster with the FAA or FCC, both of which prohibit cellphone use in the air, would let passengers place cellphone calls in the airspace over the continental U.S., where AirCell has added special antennas to more than 100 existing cell towers.
There is a push by AirCell and airlines to secure waivers that will allow passengers flying on aircraft equipped with the AirCell hardware to use any analog cellphone during the en route portion of a flight. The process for gaining waivers would be similar to the rule exceptions AirCell won when it introduced its airborne cellular telephone devices and ground cellular infrastructure, with the major difference being that the cellphones themselves would not have to be certified for aviation use.
The new service would piggyback on AirCell’s existing cellular network, which has grown to include 134 towers covering roughly 95 percent of the continental U.S. in the airspace above 18,000 ft. On board the aircraft, a 2-MCU receiver/translator and external antenna would be the major equipment needed.
When a passenger flying aboard an aircraft equipped with the AirCell hardware turns his or her cellphone on, the phone automatically would go into a listening mode, waiting to detect the strongest available cell signal. The receiver on the aircraft would appear as the nearest and strongest signal, and therefore it could command the cellphone to switch to its lowest power setting, limiting the amount of RF being transmitted inside the aircraft. Passengers who have digital phones without analog capability would receive a “no service” message, and would not be able to place or receive calls.