HAI Convention News

Rotorcraft Technology: Cockpit Recorders

 - February 18, 2008, 8:10 AM

American Eurocopter and the Bristow Group’s Air Logistics unit have partnered separately with “augmented reality solutions” provider Appareo Systems (Booth No. 4537) to develop a low-cost device that is intended to provide some of the safety and training benefits of fully certified cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

American Eurocopter’s cockpit information recording system (CIRS) can be retrofitted to Eurocopter models with analog systems that do not already have cockpit voice recorders (CVR) or flight data recorders (FDR) on board. While the system is not crashworthy, it is expected to be survivable in 90 percent of all accidents and yield video at an adequate resolution for accident analysis, training and quality assurance reviews, officials said.

The system uses a small digital camera that focuses on cockpit instrumentation, the collective and cyclic. It can capture video at rate of one to 12 images per second, with the default setting being five. It also features built-in microphones for acoustic analysis of helicopter systems. A GPS receiver is included with the system and can be overlayed into Google Earth during playbacks. The flight track and aircraft elevation is also recorded. The entire system downloads to a compact four-gigabyte flash card with four hours of memory. The card can be removed from the system after each flight and used as part of a flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) or training program. Output from the system can be streamed into digital video players.

The system weighs less than two pounds, said Joe Syslo, American Eurocopter’s senior manager for aviation safety, and installs in less than half a day. It features five minutes of independent camera and computer power and contains embedded circuitry that would allow it to be used for real-time data transmission in the future. Syslo stressed that the system is not a digital FDR or CVR.

“The microphones will not be recording voices, just acoustic data on the systems,” he said. “We don’t need to hear what is said in the cockpit. What we do want to hear are the acoustics of the rotor system, the rotor rpm and gearboxes. We are not looking to be a CVR and we want to stay away from the CVR and FDR in terms of costs, regulation and perception. CVRs and FDRs are not used for FOQA. We need a device that is.”

CIRS is a closed-loop system and either the operator or individual pilot can maintain control of the data, said Syslo. Eurocopter would not have access to it.

Del Livingston, American Eurcopter’s vice president for flight operations and training, said the goal was to offer CIRS for around $2,000 per unit, but now concedes that might have been overly optimistic. Livingston said he expects STC approval for the system early next year.

Data Monitoring Saves Lives

Last August, Bristow Group’s Air Logistics unit and Appareo Systems won STC approval for its aircraft logging and event recording for training and safety (Alerts) system. Initially the system will be installed in Air Logistics’ Bell 206s and 407s, but there are also plans to offer it to other operators. The system has its own inertial sensing suite, can record up to 100 hours of flight data and contains flight tracking and analysis software.

Mike Suldo, president of Air Logistics, said the system is the size of a paperback book, runs off aircraft power and can be installed in the field. He said Bristow became interested in the technology after installing similar tools in its large helicopters in the North Sea. “We saw a dramatic decrease in accidents,” he said.

Early recorders were bulky and expensive, Suldo said. “They were the size of two or three breadboxes and cost anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000.” Smaller helicopters “needed a smaller tool at a lower cost.”

Alerts relies on a flash memory card to record data. Its data is then uploaded to an Appareo server. “We can put in parameters such as 100 feet agl and 100 knots, descent rates that exceed 800 feet per minute, quick turns to final, things like that,” Suldo said. “Any parts of the flight that hit those parameters are highlighted in red.”

The company’s FOQA manager then reviews the data and might interview and counsel the pilots. Suldo said that the system will sell for $5,000 to $6,000 plus a small fee for the software and the kiosk that reads the datacard.