Honeywell regularly brings its company-owned Eurocopter AS350 (N350FD) to Heli-Expo, and this year is no exception. “The helicopter is certified for experimental and market survey use,” explained Steve Kilbourne, senior test pilot. “We use it for development of Honeywell equipment and demonstrations to customers and potential customers.”
In previous years, Kilbourne and Honeywell engineers have introduced Heli-Expo attendees to new products, such as the Sentinel and Observer multifunction displays, TCAS and HTAWS (an enhanced ground proximity warning system for helicopters). This year, the company is demonstrating upgrades to some of the equipment installed in N350FD. While these refinements are not as visually apparent as new displays, they do become observable in flight.
“We’ve done some upgrades to our Sentinel multifunction display, which now shows XM weather and TCAS, in addition to any maps and charts you [the customer] would like to have,” Kilbourne said. Both Sentinel and Observer display various charts and maps, from aeronautical charts to street maps showing every building. Zooming the map display in or out scrolls through the maps electronically, bringing up the next chart or map by appropriate size, regardless of what kind of map it is.
Chad Cundiff, vice president of crew interface systems, said typical maps and charts selected include street maps used by police departments, topographical maps, low-altitude helicopter charts, approach plates, low-altitude IFR charts, terminal area charts, sectionals and WAC charts. He emphasized that customers can select the maps and charts they want to use.
“Finding the navigation maps you need to fly to the airport is no problem at all,” Kilbourne continued. “The feature I like best about the charts is when I arrive at an unfamiliar airport and the tower tells me to land at a certain runway intersection between two taxiways, for example. I have the airport taxi chart right there in front of me and I can easily find that location.”
When AIN flew with Kilbourne from Houston Hobby Airport on Saturday, the map function showed its value. Although this writer was unfamiliar with the Houston area, staying oriented with the airspace and the helicopter’s position was as easy as looking at the Sentinel and Observer displays. Zooming in on either display to the most detailed map brought up streets, which were all named, and buildings. The little aircraft symbol on the display showed our precise location over the ground.
At one point we noticed displayed on the map a small factory with two smoke stacks and a water tower about five miles in front of us. Flying at 600 feet, we quickly spotted the factory, but could see only one smoke stack and no water tower. “I guess the map is out of date,” Kilbourne commented. But as we flew closer and to the left of the factory, the other stack appeared from behind the first one and the water tower became visible. It had blended into the trees behind it when we were farther away.
Other significant software changes have been made to the TCAS I, in part to remove nuisance alerts when the helicopter is close to the ground. “There is interactivity between the TCAS and the radar altimeter, so that if an intruder aircraft is on the ground and you are below 200 feet, the TCAS won’t give you an alarm,” Kilbourne said.
“We also have added what we call ‘extended voice,’” he said. “When the TCAS in the air gets a traffic alert, in addition to the traditional ‘traffic, traffic’ warning, it gives you verbally the range, bearing and elevation of that traffic. But you will have to take my word on this, because we have not arranged to have an intruder aircraft fly toward us during your flight.” This audio function is based on time and rate of closure, so sounds only when an intruder aircraft is an immediate threat.
We did have an opportunity to experience the operation of N350FD’s Mark XXI and Mark XXII Helicopter EGPWS, also called HTAWS. In one example, Kilbourne flew close enough to a tower to trigger the warning. In another, he flew low enough to trigger a ground alert.
Cundiff stressed the value of EGPWS to helicopter operations. “The mandated use of EGPWS for airline operations has eliminated accidents caused by controlled flight into terrain,” he said. “EGPWS can do the same thing for helicopters. Some airplane operators ask, “If I don’t fly off route, why do I need EGPWS?’ But even if you only fly off route only point one percent of the time, EGPWS could save your life. Most helicopter operators fly much more of the time off route. We want helicopter operators to know that Honeywell has a wide range of solutions at different price points that can significantly help improve the safety of their operations, including terrain warnings, in-flight weather and traffic awareness.”