IS&S develops cockpit retrofit kits for popular business jets

 - September 27, 2006, 4:18 AM

Avionics maker Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S) is diving headlong into the cockpit retrofit market with a turnkey installation kit for business airplanes that includes a form-fit instrument panel, flat-panel LCDs, integrated control panels and  backup instruments.

The Exton, Pa. company recently launched upgrade programs for the Pilatus PC-12, Cessna Citation 500 and 650 and Learjet 35/36, each of which calls for pulling out nearly all of the existing avionics in the panel, installing the new IS&S-designed panel and hooking up the wiring.

The company claims the entire process, including training, completing manual revisions and returning the aircraft to service, will take less than four days. Price for the complete cockpit package, with installation, is targeted at less than $250,000.

IS&S, known for its RVSM equipment installed in more than 5,000 airplanes, is in the process of obtaining its first STC for the business aircraft version of the cockpit in the PC-12. The full package can be integrated with RVSM hardware and includes four of the company’s 6- by 8-inch flat-panel primary flight and navigation displays as replacements for the airplane’s original EFIS gear.

Next in line for the upgrades are Citations and Learjets, orders for which have already been received, the company said. The company is also planning upgrade certification programs for the Learjet 20 series, the Hawker 700 and a number of other models, although timing will depend on demand. All of these early programs, too, are planned around IS&S’s 6- by 8-inch displays.

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking orders, and the priority in developing STCs goes with the orders,” said IS&S CEO Geoffrey Hedrick. “When we get high demand for orders for, say, Hawkers, we will bring the program along proportional to the demand.”

Apart from the displays, the majority of the avionics–such as FMS, radios, weather radar and so on–is retained during the upgrade, Hedrick explained, although adding new air-data computers and AHRS would likely be part of the mix for older airplanes. During the installation, avionics shops would replace existing symbol generators with data concentrator units and slide in the four-color displays, consisting of PFDs and navigation displays on the left and right.

Other equipment included in the retrofit comprises two main control panels and two auxiliary panels and standby instruments produced by IS&S. The new control panels go exactly where the old panels went and use the same wiring.

“It’s a whole installation kit,” Hedrick explained. “The new instrument panel has a set of lights already in it, so the installer just has to take all equipment out and then put the new panel in, put the clock back in, and the fire lights and a few other switches, and that bolts right into the airplane.”

FAA Approvals

IS&S has already obtained a TSO for the hardware under Part 25, DO 178 through an upgrade program with ABX Air, a Delaware cargo airline that operates a fleet of Boeing 767s now undergoing cockpit modifications. IS&S has also struck a deal with Boeing to upgrade the cockpits in aging KC-10s. The installation in the case of the 767s requires a major removal of some 270 pounds of hardware, including up to 13 LRUs. That process now takes about four days, Hedrick said, adding that the goal is to shave the time to complete each retrofit to just two days. Hedrick said that once the first several upgrades in business jets are completed, buyers can expect similar short turn times.

IS&S is targeting obtaining the STC for the cockpit in the PC-12 this month and certification of the Citation cockpit in April. Columbia Avionics in Columbia, Mo., has partnered with IS&S on the Citation program.

The list of optional equipment IS&S plans to offer as part of the cockpit upgrades is extensive. The company has developed its own Class-3 electronic flight bag, as well as a dual cockpit file server unit that will allow operators to transition to paperless cockpits.

Included as part of the file server is an 802.11g wireless card and antenna providing Internet connectivity on the ramp when the airplane is in range of an FBO or airport wireless hot spot. An optional USB keyboard can plug into the file server to allow the pilots access to the Internet for Jeppesen database updates, to order fuel and to send and receive e-mail.

IS&S has also provisioned its flight displays to connect with aircraft camera systems that will allow the pilots to monitor the cabin or view outside the airplane. Hedrick said the company has also developed a data recorder that would allow a camera to be installed in the cockpit to monitor the actions of the crew as a potential supplement to the cockpit voice recorder. He said the company will explore additional video recording processes if the FAA decides to adopt an NTSB recommendation calling for mandatory installation of cockpit video recorders in Part 121 and Part 135 airplanes.