HAI Convention News

Progress Continues On Universal Avionics MD 902 Cockpit Upgrade

 - February 22, 2014, 9:30 AM
An integrated Universal Avionics flight deck will modernize the MD Helicopters MD 902 Explorer.

Helicopter manufacturers aren’t immune to the pressure to update their machines with modern avionics, and last year MD Helicopters and Universal Avionics Systems unveiled a new NextGen flight deck mockup for the MD 902 Explorer. The new avionics replace aging Bendix/King EFIS 40 cathode-ray-tube displays with high-resolution 10.4-inch Universal LCDs in landscape orientation. The benefit of the new displays is that they offer pilots all the modern amenities, such as synthetic vision, electronic charts, moving maps, systems synoptics, video and mission display, engine instruments and rotor data. The new Universal cockpit is for both new MD 902s and will also be offered as a retrofit.

MD Helicopters engineers conceived of the modern panel for the MD 902 in 2007, according to Chris Nehls, MD Helicopters’ vice president of engineering. Last year the two companies formalized the program, announcing it at Heli-Expo 2013. “It’s been a long time in terms of planning,” he said, “but we’re there now.” The MD program is Universal’s first full flight deck for a helicopter.

The reason for upgrading the 902’s cockpit is because the existing avionics were becoming obsolescent, unable to display or handle new capabilities needed in NextGen-capable cockpits, Nehls said. There is also the problem of repairing CRT-based displays, for which parts are increasingly hard to find. “The cockpit is one area that hasn’t been modernized in some time,” he said. “The Universal system ended up being probably the best solution for the MD 902, from the standpoint of complexity and capability.”

The MD 902’s flight control system, the Bendix/King KFC 900, will be retained and integrated with the Universal avionics. The Universal system will be available as a base two-display system with two data-acquisition units; a third display (the copilot’s primary flight display) will be optional. The pilot’s PFD not only replaces the attitude director indicator and horizontal situation indicator, but it will also display primary engine/system parameters such as the free turbine and rotor speed, torque and EGT. Secondary engine indications will be displayed on the multifunction displays’ EICAS section. A Mid-Continent Instruments & Avionics standby attitude module provides backup flight instrumentation.

Radio and Nav Options

For radios and nav functionality, options include dual Garmin GTN 650s or one GTN 650 and one GTN 750 touchscreen GPS/nav/com. These replace the Bendix/King KLN90B GPS and KX165 navcoms. An Archangel attitude heading reference system (AHRS) will support the Universal PFDs. ADS-B OUT capability will also be available, using Garmin’s GTX 33 transponder, which meets the DO-260B standard required for the 2020 mandate in the U.S. (and mandates elsewhere) when coupled with the GTN 650 or 750. ADS-B IN will be an option, with Garmin’s GDL 88 datalink.

Pilots will have two ways to control the avionics: the panel will feature an electronic control-display unit (ECDU), which replaces multiple legacy controllers from the old system. This eliminates the need to clutter the PFD and multifunction display (MFD) with bezel soft keys and centralizes control of the system. A cursor control device (CCD) mounted on the collective gives pilots hands-off control of avionics. Pilots can use the cone-shaped CCD to move a mouse pointer on the displays then click the center of the cone when making a selection, all without removing hands from flight controls. With the optional three-display system, each pilot will be able to control their PFD and the center MFD using their collective CCD. “It’s important for the pilot keep his hand on the collective without having to move buttons and switches,” said Robert Randall, OEM sales manager for Universal Avionics.

Compared to the old system, the new Universal Avionics flight deck should save a lot of weight, although no numbers are yet available. The old system included symbol generators that were mounted aft, with long harnesses to send data to the CRT displays, something that is unnecessary with LCDs.

The MD Helicopters booth (No. 6922) features a demo version of the new Universal cockpit, and visitors can also view simulations of the system running on computers at the Universal Avionics booth (No. 4702). The two companies have not yet revealed a date when the system will be available, or pricing information.

MD 902 buyers and operators “are very anxious to have this new capability,” said Nehls. “We’re very excited. This will be a game changer for the flight deck.”