China’s Comac has chosen the joint venture between GE Aviation Systems and Avic Systems to provide the avionics core processing system, display system and on-board maintenance system for its new C919 airliner. The Avic-GE team also will support Comac’s integrating the open-architecture avionics suite for the narrowbody.
The C919 modular avionics system provided by joint venture will be the central information system and backbone of the airplane’s networks and electronics and will host the airplane’s avionics, maintenance and utility functions. The system replaces dozens of traditional, standalone computers fitted to aircraft flying today, benefitting in weight savings, improved reliability and reduced operating costs.
The deal with Comac and Avic marks GE Aviation’s first major selection as an integrated systems supplier. “There aren’t too many other big platforms coming up and it is important for us to keep technology advancing,” GE Aviation’ Systems president and CEO Lynn Bolsinger told AIN. “This will propel us a generation ahead of where we are today.
“Avic is quite accomplished in terms of systems and they bring excellent engineers with integration capability for the airframe interface,” she added. “We bring civil aircraft capability, making this a truly symbiotic relationship.”
Bolsinger explained that Comac has made a conscious decision to go with an open-architecture approach to the C919’s avionics, rather than buying systems “off-the-shelf,” specifically because they wanted to fit the C919 with the most advanced technology. Conversely, for the aircraft’s electrical power system, Comac decided that the risk of developing an open-architecture system would be too great, which meant it did not select GE to provide the gearbox generator.
GE has also formed a joint venture with nacelle specialist Nexcelle to develop a new integrated propulsion package, which Cormac also has selected for the C919. The integrated system covers the nacelles and thrust reverser, delivering reduced weight and improved aerodynamics, for an estimated cut in fuel burn of 1.5 percent. The nacelle is to be integrated with the pylon.
For Bolsinger, these new program selections and partnerships are the outcome of GE Aviation Systems’ strong commitment to research and development even during the aerospace industry’s down cycle. The U.S.-based group intends to double its total R&D spend between 2008 and 2012 as it seeks to raise its presence in the fields of propulsion, electrical power and avionics systems.
Part of this additional investment is paying for two new electrical power laboratories, one in Ohio and the other at Cheltenham in the UK. Those labs have been tasked with achieving a leap forward in technology such as an integrated gearbox generator that could be applied to General Electric and CFM International turbofans, but also potentially to other companies’ powerplants.
“Variable frequency is the way of the future for civil aircraft generators,” said Bolsinger. “We could deliver this as a bolt-on variable frequency unit or through a generator that shares oil with the gearbox, or ultimately as a fully integrated generator. The idea is simply to take weight out [of the design].”
GE’s engineers also are stepping up efforts in primary power distribution. They are working on the use of silicon carbide in switching devices and components to reduce thermal loss and make switching faster. The end result should be a smaller distribution box delivering two or three times as much power as a larger unit.
In air traffic management, GE has big plans for RNP approach provider Naverus, which it acquired last year.
“RNP approaches will be part of the foundation for rebuilding ATM and I am now even more convinced that it is critical for the viability of the [air transport] industry,” said Bolsinger, explaining that the more efficient, direct approaches to airports contribute to reductions in fuel burn of between 5 and 15 percent. GE believes that with its backing, Naverus will be able to start making progress with North American airports, building on its earlier successes in Australia, China and South America.
GE Aviation also has been chosen by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to contribute to the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program, which is part of the wider NextGen ATM project. Its focus is to enable responsible air transport growth through better asset utilization, lower fuel burn and reduced costs for airlines, as well as reduced delays and improved airport throughput.
Finally, in health monitoring, GE has introduced the new ProDAPS system for Agusta Westland’s AW139 helicopter. The system uses artificial intelligence for advanced anomaly detection, looking not only how certain aircraft conditions relate to each other but identifying abnormalities in the data to detect about 50 percent more faults. Canadian AW139 operator Ornge has just received the first of 10 aircraft equipped with the system. GE has also Web-enabled its health monitoring technology so that customers can see data for their aircraft online.