Honeywell pursues new greener, safer technology

 - May 17, 2008, 11:05 PM

Honeywell Aerospace is a major provider of business aircraft engines but the focus of its efforts to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint is at least as much in the cockpit as in the powerplant. According to Rob Wilson, president, Honeywell Aerospace Business and General Aviation, the pursuit of greater flight efficiency delivered by advanced guidance, surveillance and other avionics systems has the potential to significantly reduce fuel burn, engine emissions and noise.

For example, Honeywell’s recent analysis of traffic at Los Angeles International Airport has shown that the use of continuous descent approaches alone could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 30 percent and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions by 40 percent, while also cutting the local noise footprint. The company recently got clearance from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to help business aircraft pilots get approval to use RNP (required navigational performance) approaches after realizing many had difficulty doing so.    

Honeywell is now seeking to be part of the environmental solution on this side of the Atlantic, too, having become the first U.S. company to be part of the SESAR project to create a more efficient air traffic management system for the so-called Single European Sky. For its next-generation flight management system, the company is developing software that will meet the requirements of both SESAR and the equivalent U.S. next-generation transportation system, including functions such as continuance path guidance, engine-out drift down and continuous descent approach.

Primarily intended as a safety tool, Honeywell’s RDR4000 true 3-D multi-scan weather radar is also being promoted as a flight efficiency tool in that it gives pilots confidence to know the exact location of a storm, avoiding the need to fly unnecessarily long vectors to get around it. The radar has a range of 320 nm and can scan up to 1.5 million cubic miles of airspace. “It dices the data and shows it in true 3-D,” explained Wilson. “The key differentiator for this product is that the data is not extrapolated, it shows exactly where the storm cells and rough weather are in terms of height, depth and width.”

The RDR4000 is to be standard equipment in the cockpit of Gulfstream’s new G650 as part of the latest version of the PlaneView avionics suite, which will also include Honeywell’s synthetic-vision system (SVS) and its runway awareness advisory system (RAAS). The radar is already in use aboard large aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777. The technical challenge has been to develop a smaller antenna that would fit on the G650, and Honeywell believes it may now be able to offer this for smaller jets as well.

Honeywell (Booth No. 322) has just started shipping volume production of its SVS, having recently completed flight trials of the situational awareness tool on the Gulfstream 350, 450 and 550. Wilson argued that some rival SVS packages do not offer real synthetic vision. “Our SVS is based on the database of our EGPWS [enhanced ground proximity warning system] and on top of this we super-impose the HUD [head-up display] symbology,” he explained. The system is available for retrofit and is also in demand as optional equipment on the existing Gulfstream jets with PlaneView cockpits.

Recent spates of runway incursion incidents have boosted interest in Honeywell’s RAAS. It has sold more than 1,400 systems to business aircraft operators–almost twice as many as the 800 that have gone to airlines. “This is very much on the minds of business aviation pilots, especially because they fly to such varied destinations where the runways and taxiways unfamiliar to them,” Wilson said.

While the main thrust of Honeywell’s green initiatives is efficiency of flight, the company is also pursuing greater combustion efficiency from its engines. The group’s specialty materials division has developed a proprietary approach to converting vegetable and algae oils into jet fuel, having already managed to convert it into diesel. The work, being done in conjunction with the U.S. DARPA defense research agency, is looking at what the alternative fuels would do to engine seals and pumps, as well as how economical they will prove to be.

According to Wilson, corporate flight departments potentially could find it more logistically feasible than airlines to use the new fuel because they do not have such disparate operating networks. Honeywell is considering issues such as the limits of tankering the new fuel and whether aircraft engines could run on it as well as on conventional jet-A to cover situations where converted fuel might not be available.

Wilson believes that the new fuel source could be commercially available in eight to 10 years. The use of algae as a fuel source would get around the rising objection that the use of vegetable crops for fuel has resulted in worsening food shortages in the developing world.