Primus Epic retrofit brings latest tech to older panels

 - November 26, 2007, 11:00 AM

Honeywell is on the verge of gaining FAA certification approval for retrofit versions of its Primus Epic integrated avionics suite. Targeting older medium and heavy business jets, Primus Epic CDS/R (control display system/retrofit) has been developed to transform steam-gauge-driven dinosaurs into state-of-the-art hot rods capable of meeting airspace operating requirements for the next decade or more.

Certifications in the Gulfstream II and III, Citation V and Lockheed L-382 civil Hercules are expected by the middle of the month, with additional airplanes, such as the Challenger 604 with a four-display layout, to follow in the near future.

The Epic CDS/R suite is replete with large LCDs for display of full-color moving maps, terrain, traffic and weather, and cursor-control devices for operating a number of pull-down-style menus on the system’s multifunction display. The difference the upgrade makes in a Gulfstream II or III cockpit is startling, as dozens of round dials are replaced by the system’s clean, uncluttered flat-panel displays.

The true benefit for operators is that a full retrofit to Epic CDS/R, ranging in price from about $300,000 to $1.5 million including installation, can extend the utility of an otherwise perfectly good airframe for another 10 years, even as new CNS/ATM and Free Flight operating requirements take effect.

Primus Epic CDS/R is an evolution of the Primus 1000 and 2000 integrated avionics systems from Honeywell flying today aboard a long list of business airplanes, from the Citation Bravo, Excel, Ultra and X to the Learjet 45, Falcon 900EX, Gulfstream V and Global Express.

Epic CDS/R is designed to interface with an airplane’s already installed autopilot and flight director. The benefit of this is a significant saving in terms of cost and time, not to mention a far easier road to certification, particularly in Europe. Installation of a three-display retrofit in a GIII is estimated to take just four to six weeks. Packages are designed to accommodate as few as two and as many as six displays, depending on the real estate available in the cockpit and how much money the customer is willing to spend on extras.

Total Situational Awareness
Shortly after departing New York’s Westchester County Airport in Honeywell’s Citation V fitted with a three-display Epic CDS/R package, the system’s selling points, as if on cue, began presenting themselves.

As we climbed out VFR to the northwest, the moving-map display plotted a course to the Huguenot VOR, the initial approach fix for the ILS approach to Runway 9 at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. As we leveled at 5,500 ft, a dozen or so TCAS targets appeared on the MFD, airliners lined up like ants on approach to Newark International Airport. North and west of our position, the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) began painting a picture of rising terrain–the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. It would have been difficult to find any weather of significance on the day of this demonstration flight, but if storms had been in the vicinity they would have been painted by the airplane’s airborne weather radar and revealed on the display as well.

“Total situational awareness” was how Honeywell demonstration pilot Rob Odgers put it. Operators of older, analog-equipped airplanes–such as the GII and GIII–have long been searching for a way to bring their aircraft up to date with the latest-technology glass displays. Interfacing a suite of displays and electronics with existing autopilots and flight directors had been among the biggest challenges, along with the high price tags of such upgrades.

Guy Lachlan, Honeywell sales manager, said Epic CDS/R provides an upgrade path that prepares operators for changes in airspace requirements without requiring a cash outlay reaching into the millions of dollars. Not only do the prices quoted by Honeywell cover installation work, they also include radios and some other ancillary equipment, said Lachlan.

“We are making a commitment to our customers who may be operating airplanes that are 25 years old to keep those aircraft in service as long as the airframes are still capable,” said Lachlan. “A systems approach is essential for long-term approval of upgrades as the flight operating environment continues to evolve.”

Lachlan said Epic CDS/R has been designed to allow operators to meet today’s requirements for recent rules such as reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) and future mandates for equipment to warn of flight into terrain, for example. (RVSM-compatible air-data computers, it should be noted, are considered optional items, and therefore add to the price of the integrated system.)

Epic CDS/R is composed of a number of 8- by 10-in. flat-panel displays. In most cases these would include a primary flight display for each pilot and an MFD in the center of the cockpit. A simple joystick cursor-control device (CCD) allows either pilot to manipulate a series of menus on the displays, which are used primarily for configuring data on the MFD.

Behind the scenes, the IC-1080 integrated computer incorporates a number of software upgrades to provide all of the system’s required computational capabilities in a small package weighing just 15 lb. An optional integrated FMZ-2000 flight management system can also be purchased, thereby further reducing line-replaceable units (LRU) and wiring.

A digital high-speed databus connects the IC-1080 to the displays. The bus eases installation of the system because it reduces the overall wire count, said Lachlan. The bus also serves as the nervous system for the avionics suite, through which a wide array of optional equipment can interface with the system.
Preparing for the Future
In the face of a stumbling economy it is undoubtedly getting more difficult for some corporate flight department managers to go to the  executive responsible for signing off on the flight operations budget to ask for the funds to upgrade the corporate jet’s cockpit with expensive equipment. However, a number of enticing options are available.
There is the FMZ-2000 FMS, Honeywell’s state-of-the-art business aviation flight management computer, which is capable of storing thousands of waypoints in its memory. Add to that GPS sensors, Laseref inertial sensors, TCAS 2000, EGPWS, Primus 660 or 880 weather radar, LSZ-860 lightning sensor, MCS-7000 seven-channel satcom and Primus II radios, and that past-its-prime-looking GII cockpit could suddenly be the envy of the airport, with those GIV pilots from the hangar next door even stopping by to take a peek.

Flight department managers who couch their requests for such upgrades around the fact that they enhance utility, increase safety and add to the value of the airplane could make a compelling case. Lachlan said it’s all about preparing for the future by not only meeting regulatory requirements, but also by providing better situational awareness, separation management and separation assurance for the overall most efficient and safest use of the airspace.

During the demonstration flight Primus Epic CDS/R lived up to its advanced billing as an intuitive, easy-to-use avionics system. Unlike some of the far-reaching concepts on the drawing board for airplanes such as Dassault’s Falcon 900EX and 2000EX, which have track-ball cursor devices and no FMS CDU (and, some believe, a steeper learning curve), Epic CDS/R is a straightforward system to which any pilot who has flown with EFIS should readily adapt.

‘Flexible and Affordable’
The displays are readable at any angle and in direct sunlight. This wasn’t always the case with LCDs, but the latest glass, produced for Honeywell by Mitsubishi of Japan, provides angled viewing that is nearly as good as with CRTs. And, of course, the LCDs can display far more information in more dynamic fashion than CRTs.

Epic’s PFD includes a large attitude indicator with V-bar flight director cue. The attitude indicator is flanked on either side by speed and altitude tapes. So-called trend worms on the tapes give the pilot an indication of how fast or how high the airplane will be in six seconds, while speed bugs keep track of V-speed settings.
On the lower portion of the PFD is the horizontal situation indicator, which can be switched between standard and arc modes. For tactical planning, the MFD displays a moving map linked to the FMS, with course lines, fixes, navaids and airports shown using appropriate symbology. If either PFD fails, the pilots can turn a knob and transform the MFD into a flying display instead.

The joystick cursor control device (CCD), a tiny, one-inch peg on a control panel between the pilots, is nearly foolproof in its ease of use, mainly due to the fact that it controls only a few menus. This also means that it is virtually impossible for pilots to get lost in layers of menus–a concern of some aviators who were asked to evaluate Honeywell CCD designs in the past.

“Primus Epic is the future for Honeywell,” said Lachlan. “And Epic CDS/R builds on Epic’s philosophy of human-centered design, while providing an upgrade path for future enhancements as they become available. These may include e-charts, high-resolution maps and other enhancements in a flexible and affordable upgrade.”