When DeCrane Aviation formally introduced its new e-Cabin.Connect program to develop true in-flight high-speed Internet access, it was met with cheers by many bizav operators, and shaking of heads by some skeptics. Now, according to DeCrane, the company will begin the final in-flight test phase of e-Cabin before the end of the year. According to Chuck Curry, v-p and business manager of e-Cabin.Connect, “We expect to have production units certified and available in the first quarter next year.”
To demonstrate its capabilities, DeCrane’s Cabin Management Group has created a ground-based “fully operational e-Cabin” that included an integrated service/receiver (ISR) with 512-Kbps interface; satellite link with the ViaSat Ku-band satellite system through a ViaSat, hard-mount, 1.4-meter dish antenna; LAN (local area network); four laptop computers; one desktop computer; one 42-in. gas plasma monitor; and a Teledyne MagnaStar C2000 back-channel telephone system interface.
While the e-cabin simulator is visually impressive, using a fixed-base antenna makes constant contact with the satellite system appear deceptively easy. And even DeCrane admits that the success of the system will depend on in-flight pitch-and-roll flight tests, which were scheduled to begin late last month.
A spokesman said the most likely test aircraft will be a Global Express or Gulfstream already equipped with a satcom housing in the vertical stabilizer. The antenna from Bantec Microwave Systems of Calabasas, Calif., is designed to share that space with a satcom antenna, and DeCrane said respective reception and transmission by one system will not affect the other.
Critics have questioned whether a solution can be found to the problem of maintaining constant satellite contact during more abrupt aircraft maneuvers. But according to Curry, “new technology” incorporated into an auto-directional tilt-table involved in the pitch-and-roll flight tests is the final piece of the puzzle in the long-awaited search for in-flight high-speed Internet connection.
First deliveries will begin before the end of the year and the system will become fully operational in early January.