For a close-up look at what tomorrow’s helicopter cockpits might look like, stop by the Thales booth (No. 1202) to see the company’s Avionics 2020 cockpit of the future. This version is Thales’s third iteration of its Avionics 2020 concept; earlier helicopter versions were unveiled at last year’s Paris Air Show and at the NBAA Convention. “This is a new generation,” said Thales head of helicopter avionics Yves Joannic, “based on an evolution of the technology.” At the Thales Heli-Expo display, visitors can sit in the Avionics 2020 cockpit and interact with the avionics and learn exactly how it works.
The philosophical underpinning of Avionics 2020 is to help pilots do more while reducing their workload. “More and more the helicopters manufacturers are putting in place many functionalities that are interfacing with the pilot,” he explained. “The workload is increasing,” and manufacturers just keep adding features. “Avionics have to decrease the workload, in order for the pilot to concentrate on the mission.”
Avionics 2020 designers recognize that new pilots will likely be younger people who are used to interacting with their smart devices, using gestures and touch commands. “It’s important to simplify the man-machine interface,” Joannic said, “using gestures and not buttons. We’re replacing ten clicks with the mouse by one or two gestures on a touchscreen to enter information or [generate] information from the cockpit.” At the same time, Thales has emphasized the black cockpit concept, where only information needed for the particular operation is provided. “At each phase of flight, the pilot and crew receive all relevant information,” he said.
Avionics 2020 doesn’t lock helicopter manufacturers into one look and feel or way of presenting information, however. The Thales design is an open-architecture system that can be adapted to a manufacturer’s requirements. “Today what’s available in the market are avionics suites fully integrated by each vendor,” said Richard Perrot, Thales director of marketing for avionics. The only way to implement additional functions is usually with third-party products. “This platform offers the ability to implement other functions that they want. We offer the capability to customize the man-machine interface and have their own cockpit implemented. It’s quite open and flexible in terms of configuration and to differentiate their helicopter from the competition.”
In terms of certification, this should be more cost-effective because once the underlying system is approved, adding new functionality should be a simple matter. “Thales is providing ideas to minimize as much as possible the certification activity,” said Joannic.
No aircraft manufacturer has yet announced selection of an Avionics 2020 cockpit, but Thales has signed non-disclosure agreements with many OEMs, according to Perrot. The first implementation and entry into service of an Avionics 2020-powered aircraft should be around in about five or six years. “2020 is the time where we think we are going to get something on board an aircraft,” he said.
“We’re working with the whole helicopter community,” said Perrot. “This concept is the first time ever that a supplier is bringing onto the market an innovative man-machine interface, tremendous operational gains and at the same time answering other requests from the market to have open-architecture and the ability to customize a solution. This has really received a warm welcome from the market.”