HAI Convention News

Digital climate system keeps everyone comfy

 - February 20, 2010, 9:42 AM

Air Comm has unveiled the first digital climate-control system for helicopters at Heli-Expo. The system will allow crew and passengers to dial in desired temperatures throughout the aircraft. Simply called the Digital Climate Control System, it automatically engages air-conditioning and heating as required to maintain the selected temperatures. It features separate zones and controls for cockpit and cabin.

Temperatures in current helicopter climate-control systems are typically set by the pilot and require manual adjustment of individual ejectors for comfort.

“Helicopters have long faced the problem of very disparate temperatures, especially between the cockpit and cabin,” Keith Steiner, president of Boulder, Colo.-based Air Comm, told AIN. “What we did on the climate-control system was to automate that heating process, so each ejector now has a motorized actuator and a microprocessor. [The microprocessor] is sensing the return air temperature at all times, and the ejector is automatically adjusting itself to provide the appropriate amount of heat to reach whatever digital temperature is dialed in by the pilot or passengers.”

The digital system will be initially installed in the Bell 429 as a factory option, and Steiner expects it to be certified and available later this year. The price has not been set by Bell, but customer response has been reportedly strong.

“At this point in time, we don’t have a hard certification date and we don’t have specific numbers on customers who have chosen it,” Steiner said.

Air Comm, which has designed and manufactured vapor-cycle air conditioners, bleed-air heaters and climate-control systems for more than 20 civil and military helicopters, previously supplied heating and cooling systems for the Bell 407 and 427.

“When we were selected to do the 429, we developed it as a standard manual configuration [climate control system],” Steiner said. “During the development process, the customer base for the 429 was requesting a higher level of sophistication throughout, and specifically for the environmental control system. Bell asked if we could take the manual system we had developed and certified, and continue developing it to a full digital system. So essentially it came about as a customer request.”

The system designed for the Bell 429 has six ejectors and weighs about three pounds. During development, Air Comm was able to reduce the weight and size of the ejectors, improvements that will find their way into the company’s manual climate-control systems.

Project Engineer Jonathan Buczkowski noted that in the event of a software failure or other malfunction, the system would revert to mechanical operation and not compromise flight safety.

Air Comm expects to offer retrofits for the Bell 407 as its next target installation and plans retrofits for other OEM platforms. “There’s definitely three other projects that we think this is a slam dunk for,” said company CEO Norm Steiner. “Maybe we’ll move into the aftermarket first and then back into the OEM [market].”

Air Comm reports it has already had informal discussions with other OEMs and expects those conversations to gather momentum with the unveiling of the new system.

Though the system has not yet been integrated into the Bell 429, the company has a working unit it is demonstrating at its booth (No. 2817), and is offering the first 25 attendees who come to the display for a demonstration of the system a $5 Starbucks gift card. The company is also offering special pricing during Heli-Expo on a new air condition servicing kit, reduced to $775 from the regular price of $849.

In additional company news, Air Comm received ISO 9001/AS9100 quality system certification in January. The company added that it has sold 50 air-conditioning systems for the AS350 helicopter, featuring leak-free Torq-Lok refrigerant fittings and an adjustable-mount compressor, allowing quick installation and belt alignment.