HAI Convention News

MD, Universal Unveil New Flight Deck

 - March 4, 2013, 7:45 PM

MD Helicopters unveiled at Heli-Expo yesterday its Next Generation Cockpit for the MD Explorer, featuring an integrated, single-pilot IFR-capable flight deck from Universal Avionics.

“It’s a huge upgrade to the aircraft–exactly what customers are asking us for,” said Lynn Tilton, CEO and principal of Patriarch Partners, which owns MD Helicopters. “This is the beginning of great things for the [MD Explorer] 902 on its 20th anniversary.”

The basic system has a two-screen display, with an optional third screen available for the copilot’s position. The display screens have no bezels or soft keys. Instead, the system is controlled via a center-panel-mounted CDU, or via a cursor controlled by a point-and-click button mounted on the cyclic, enabling the pilot to operate the system without looking away from the display screen. The new panel will be standard equipment in the MD Explorer and will also be available as a retrofit. Prices of the retrofit or of the MD Explorer with the Next Generation Cockpit have not been set.

“We hope to have it certified in the aircraft early next year,” said Chris Nehls, vice president, engineering at MD Helicopters. MD is already working with the FAA on certification, and sequestration will not affect the timetable, Nehls said.

Universal Avionics was one of “about seven or eight” vendors that submitted proposals for the panel upgrade and was selected after a rigorous review process, according to Nehls. He added that the Next Generation system will weigh less than the Bendix/King EFIS 40 system that is being replaced, although the Explorer will retain the KFC 900 flight control system until it can be replaced by a digital autopilot in the future.

“It’s really a good match working with MD,” said Grady Dees, director of technical sales at Universal Avionics (Booth No. C2401). “We’re both Arizona companies, both privately held, and it’s a short drive between Mesa [MD Helicopters’ headquarters] and Tucson [where Universal is based]. It’s really a good fit between the companies.”

The Next Generation Cockpit represents a new product, Dees said, and includes a new version of Universal’s synthetic vision system.

Universal has previously installed an integrated flight panel as an aftermarket upgrade to a Bell platform, but this is Universal’s first fully integrated flight deck in an OEM helicopter.

A working model of the flight deck is on display at the MD Helicopters booth (No. N4121), and attendees are invited to come and see a demo of the Next Generation Cockpit.