Sikorsky has scheduled the maiden flight of the first Thales TopDeck-equipped Sikorsky S-76D for the second quarter of this year. The company expressed confidence that it will see the full certification of the product in 2009, according to Phil Naybour, vice president and general manager of Helicopter Solutions at Thales.
Thales has built several innovations into the new TopDeck avionics suite, including an Interactive flight management system, which provides flight plan and aircraft performance management. The ease with which an operator can modify a flight plan to take weather or terrain into account becomes quickly apparent when, with a couple of clicks of the cursor control device (CCD), the heading on the digital map changes.
Thales claims TopDeck is the first helicopter avionics system to include a CCD, allowing the crew to navigate across the various pages displayed on their central screen. The screens also use Windows-based architecture, which, like the CCD, are taken directly from the personal computer world. John Beck, Thales TopDeck program manager for the S-76D, said both the CCD and the Windows-based system are designed “to keep the pilots’ attention on flying the aircraft” and to reduce their workload as much as possible. The ability to closely manage the aircraft’s route and performance, Naybour believes, will help to reduce fuel burn improving a helicopter’s environmental credentials and operating costs.
Some pilots may be concerned as to whether the vibration that they experience in a helicopter cockpit will make CCD control difficult. Not so, said the company. A filter is to be applied to cancel the aircraft’s natural shuddering. Another device borrowed from the computer realm is the USB socket. A look at the cockpit reveals a port in which a flash drive can be inserted to upload a flight plan drafted on a PC on the ground.
Thales is keen to promote the safety features of TopDeck. While any pilot would be understandably worried by an unlikely double failure of the CCD devices, Beck and his colleagues said information can still be input and derived from the screens using the alphanumeric keyboards. Similarly, if all of the display screens fail, the aircraft has a primary flight display located above the central screen, which integrates all of the navigational displays, communications systems and primary flight instruments.
Naybour and his colleagues would not comment on TopDeck’s cost, although they talk of it being in the realm of six- to eight percent of the aircraft’s unit price cost for the system that will be installed on the S-76D. The company is also keen to access the retrofit market for TopDeck and boasts that “installation is a relatively simple process.” It also has the capability to be upgraded when new software is available. “We’ve built the platform to accept new software applications when we have a requirement to do so,” noted Beck.
Although selected for the civil S-76D, the company believes that not only will the design appeal to other civil helicopter operators, but also to military rotorcraft users. Thales sees a big market for TopDeck over the next few years, anticipating a demand for more than 7,300 new turbine-powered civil helicopters, 400 of which will be medium-to-heavy lift models, worth up to $28 billion through the next decade. The company is confident that within this projected total, the demands for helicopters to support law enforcement, emergency medical services and offshore oil exploration will be the biggest drivers.