As the transmission rates of airborne connectivity make spectacular jumps, the industry is finding new ways to use those previously unimagined data rates, in many cases taking advantage of information already being collected by aircraft systems.
Honeywell is looking to draw on the weather data compiled by the RDR4000 radar, installed on numerous airliners and standard equipment on the Gulfstream G650, into a crowd-sourced weather network. “We’re trying to take advantage of all the data that we already have off our hardware on aircraft, to benefit the pilot and the operator,” said Kiah Erlich, director of flight support services for Honeywell’s aerospace division. “They can improve efficiency and have a safer, more comfortable route.”
Through an STC modification on the radar unit’s software, Honeywell can allow the system to downlink real-time weather data from the aircraft to a ground station, where it is compiled into a mosaic allowing pilots to see real-time weather on their flight route, similar to the Waze app that allows drivers to view traffic conditions being experienced by other motorists ahead on the same road.
This new system, which Honeywell anticipates will debut this year, will take the radar image from participating aircraft equipped with the RDR4000, a swath 320 nm wide and vertically from 60,000 feet to the surface.The high data transmission rates currently available allow this information to be sent to a ground station, where it will then be analyzed and relayed to the tablets of pilots who subscribe either to Honeywell’s Weather Information Service app or Godirect Flight Bag app.
Tablet-based electronic flight bags (EFBs) have revolutionized the industry by providing many functions without having to go through certification, Erlich noted, and avionics manufacturers are free to infuse an EFB application with the freshest technology while avoiding thehurdles that attend certifying it in a permanently installed display.
The company has concluded the test phase using its Boeing 757 testbed and is in the process of securing airline partners that will offer their aircraft as “weather balloons. They’ll opt into a program with the incentive that, if they are providing data, that they are not paying for accessing the weather service,” explained Erlich, noting that the plan will be subscription based for customers. “The paying users will be those that are not providing data; they’re just benefitting, consuming the data.”
She emphasized that aircraft do not have to be equipped with the RDR4000, which can provide 3-D depictions of turbulence and storm severity, to use the information. “What we are trying to do is enable the broader community to benefit from our services and our technology, and they don’t necessarily have to have our equipment,” Erlich said.
Flights over land can avail themselves of weather information from ground-based radar. Such information is not available over oceanic areas, but a potential fleet of data-transmitting aircraft on busy oceanic routes can fill that gap, according to the Arizona-based company. Likewise in countries such as China, where ground-based radar data is considered military intelligence, shared weather radar such as this could also fill gaps in coverage.
Rather than simply providing the weather information to help avoid a bouncy ride, Honeywell couples that with advances in data analytics, which can provide improvements in efficiency as well. “Vertical optimization will be a feature in the Weather Information Service app, and it optimizes the flight plan vertically and takes into account the filed flight plan, the most recent winds and temperatures, and the aircraft performance data straight from the manufacturers themselves,” said Erlich. “It’s like a mini flight management system. It computes all the different calculations and it tells the pilot that it’s more efficient to fly at a different altitude, for example, because the wind is more favorable.”
The app will display the filed flight plan in one color, overlaid with the suggested optimized flight plan, which will change in real time as the accumulated weather data changes. “The connectivity pipe is getting bigger and faster, and the bigger and faster it gets, the more data we can pump down through it, and the more information we can spit back up into the cockpit into an EFB app that provides more situational awareness to the pilot,” Erlich said. “It’s like having a virtual copilot on the ground interpolating all of this data for you and then giving you advisory information back to the cockpit.”