HAI Convention News

Honeywell’s Observer III tracker coming to the U.S.

 - February 23, 2008, 3:53 PM

After acquiring Skyforce, a small UK-based avionics company, in 1998, AlliedSignal (now Honeywell) focused on the European market for the helicopter mission management systems that became Skyforce’s forte. Skyforce transitioned into Honeywell’s Mission Systems business and now the company is expanding its mission management system offerings to U.S. law enforcement and public service markets.

Interest in adapting the Skyforce moving maps for law enforcement missions grew from a request from a UK police department, which saw the potential of combining the moving map with other data sources to place in front of an observer ground-
derived information, including terrain and non-aviation maps and inputs from cameras mounted on the helicopter.

Those first systems, starting with the Observer I, which was based on a Microsoft Windows NT operating system that proved unreliable, have matured into the latest Observer III using a more stable Honeywell-developed operating system.

A Massachusetts-based police department was the first North American customer for the system and it still uses an Observer II, according to Mel White, director of Honeywell’s Mission Systems business. The Observer III incorporates an Intel Pentium processor and can handle up to seven simultaneous users–given a big enough helicopter to mount that many displays–and deliver output in up to seven graphics formats (four composite, three VGA).

The Observer III can handle as many as 76 different mapping file formats, a necessary requirement because many countries have developed their own map data standards. There are 30 different geo-referencing systems used around the world, according to White. “It’s more difficult than it appears to get [those different systems] relatively seamless,” he said.

The next version, Observer IV, is to feature Web-delivery of software and data updates, which should make supporting the product easier, White said. Observer III data can be updated only by shipping data cards (PC card standard) to customers. With systems installed in Europe, Pakistan and the Middle East, Web-based updates will make support much easier and faster. The updates can be tailored to match the client’s needs, too. For example, a customer who uses a terrain database and an urban mapping database probably needs to update the urban maps on a more frequent basis, but not the terrain maps, and Honeywell can accommodate such custom requests.

Yesterday, Honeywell rotary-wing chief pilot Steven Kilbourne and White demonstrated the Observer III in the company AStar. The Observer III data runs on a Skyquest monitor installed in the rear seating area and on a Bendix/King KMD 550 installed in the AStar’s instrument panel. The controls on both displays can operate the system, which defaults to whomever last punched a button on his display.

The Observer III mission management system shows a variety of information. For example, on the flight from Hobby Airport aboard the Honeywell AStar yesterday, it showed the Houston-area terminal chart, ground maps, XM weather downloads, terrain (using Honeywell’s EGPWS), airborne traffic (TCAS), flight plan routing and, although it wasn’t installed in the AStar, external camera views, including FLIR. The observer can instruct the camera to point to a specific area by selecting a point in the mapping database.

A picture-in-picture feature allows the observer to run a separate data feed in a corner of the display. For example, a camera view could be running in the picture-in-picture window, while the rest of the display is showing the ground map.

Another interesting feature allows the observer to target an area of probability and program that area to move in a selectable fashion. This could be used to track a suspect who is running away from a crime scene or to find a lost child. The observer plugs in the suspect’s speed, the helicopter’s search speed and the time, location and, if available, direction of travel of the suspect when last seen. A circular target on the display then “follows” the suspect, taking into account the helicopter’s flight path. This feature was derived from a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue mission tool that was used to calculate the likely drift direction of a ship in distress. The Observer III includes a maritime automatic identification system (AIS) transponder interface. The AIS interface displays any AIS-equipped ship on the moving map and allows text messaging between the Observer-equipped aircraft and the shipping targets. For search-and-rescue missions, the Observer III can triangulate bearings from ELTs and EPIRBs using data delivered by a Chelton sensor.

The Observer III is designed for search-and-rescue, EMS, law enforcement and other paramilitary purposes. Cost of the system is between $45,000 and $50,000.