Marinvent plans high-flying projects

 - October 5, 2006, 6:53 AM

Marinvent, a small but highly regarded aerospace engineering firm located just outside Montreal, has big aspirations to step out of relative anonymity and into aviation’s limelight.

Plans are afoot for construction of a $6 million high-tech flight-test center at St-Hubert Airport in Longueuil, Quebec, which the company plans to use for research and development projects related to the development of advanced aircraft systems.

Creation of a so-called Flight Test Center of Excellence at the airport would involve adding as many as 60 engineers to Marinvent’s current staff of 25 employees and the likely purchase of at least two test airplanes to add to the two the company already owns. If Marinvent decides to give the project the green light, the test center could be open for business by next summer, according to company officials.

Despite the company’s low profile, Marinvent is well known in aerospace engineering circles. Founded 22 years ago by Canadian air force test pilot John Maris primarily as a holding company for aerospace patents, the firm in the last decade has emerged from early dormancy to become involved in a number of high-profile projects. Among these was the development of Jeppesen’s popular Jepp-View electronic charting software and the underlying vector graphics technology that re-creates digital charts and moving maps.

For years, Jeppesen paid licensing fees to Marinvent for the TCL/MC3 software that drives JeppView, but it bought the technology outright in 2001 after deciding to invest more heavily in paperless charting technology. Today, the vector graphics software created by Marinvent is a key component of JeppView software installed in thousands of electronic flight bag (EFB) portable computers flying in a wide variety of aircraft.  

Electronic charting is just one area of expertise Marinvent can lay claim to pioneering. The company lists dozens of aerospace patents to its credit and has worked with a variety of avionics manufacturers on R&D projects from new types of stall-warning system to the development of enhanced head-up display symbology. Most recently Marinvent launched a certification program to bring Honeywell’s Primus Epic CDS/R retrofit cockpit to the Piaggio Avanti. Not only is Honeywell endorsing the project, it has also created brochures and other marketing material with photos of Marinvent’s own Avanti test airplane featured prominently on the cover.

In addition to the Avanti, which Marinvent purchased a few years ago, the company also owns a Piper Cheyenne. Both are used for flight testing at locations throughout Canada and the U.S. and are joined by a non-motion flight simulator Marinvent built from scratch to test flight hardware and software in a laboratory setting. The simulator is on wheels and can be rolled out the door and hauled to any test location in the world.

Featuring traditional yoke, sidestick and even collective controls, the device is capable of replicating any aircraft, including the space shuttle, Maris said. Among the recent projects the simulator has been involved with was the certification program for a new flight management system developed by CMC Electronics and synthetic-vision testing with NASA.

Maris said the flight-test center, if built, will allow the company to perform even more extensive engineering work for a wider range of clients. As envisioned, the center would include labs and conference rooms looking out onto a large main hangar floor.

Maris is seeking financial support for the center from the Canadian government and said he will make a decision soon about whether to move forward with the plan. Government support for the project is not absolutely essential, he added, but it would allow the company to be more ambitious about its plans from the outset.

An International Effort

The test center could attract interest from the Canadian government because Marinvent would hire engineers from the Montreal area. But engineering talent from an unlikely place, Russia, would also be sought, Maris said.

After the Cold War ended, Maris found a ready supply of aerospace engineers in Russia looking for work. Today, the company’s engineering staffs are split between Montreal and Moscow. The groups communicate regularly through a sophisticated communications hub that links the two offices. Maris said the pairing of engineers in Canada and Russia has been a big part of the reason for Marinvent’s success in the last decade. In fact, it was one of the Russian engineers Marinvent first hired, Anatoly Titrov, who wrote the TCL/MC3 software code behind JeppView.

Marinvent Projects

As Maris explains the relationship between him and his staff, he is the “idea man” and his engineers help bring these ideas to life. Today, the engineers are involved in a number of interesting and challenging projects. For example, in his days as an air force test pilot, Maris thought there must be a better way to present airspeed and altitude on a head-up display.  Especially in upset maneuvers, the sliding tapes on the HUD provide information that is hard to interpret, he said. Maris’s idea, which the company has since patented and continues to hone, was to create what he calls the dynamic nonlinear display.

On a nonlinear display, the view of airspeed and altitude on the HUD (or a primary flight display) shows all values from zero to beyond MMO (in the case of airspeed) and the airplane’s service ceiling (in the case of altitude) in a non-conformal way. A portion of the tapes in the middle is presented exactly as they are on a traditional HUD, but the portion above and below would be greatly compressed and, as a result, move very slowly.

As Maris explained, the concept provides a sort of calmness to the HUD that is not present during aggressive maneuvers with a traditional HUD. Using a nonlinear HUD, instead of seeing a blur of numbers whizzing by, pilots could more easily read and interpret airspeed and altitude, Maris contends. He’s hoping to sell the idea to the military for use in fighters and training aircraft, and even to entities outside aviation such as nuclear power plant designers.

Enhanced Vision

Another idea Marinvent engineers are seeking to perfect involves software algorithms that interpret infrared enhanced-vision system (EVS) images and draw boxes around what the computer thinks is the runway and other aircraft. Maris wouldn’t say how the technology works, but during a demonstration he showed a video of an EVS approach at night that used the technology.

As the aircraft descended on the approach toward the runway in the video, thin-lined boxes began highlighting what the computers decided must be the runway and taxiways. The demo was so good that not only did the system draw outlines around the appropriate strips of asphalt, it even outlined the runway numbers and centerline.

Looking directly ahead, Marinvent’s biggest challenge will be the certification program for Primus Epic CDS/R in the Avanti, flight testing for which began in June. The retrofit package Marinvent is testing is the first major avionics upgrade to be offered for the Avanti since the airplane entered service in the mid-1980s. New Avanti II models are coming from the factory equipped with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics.

A scaled-down and less expensive version of Honeywell’s full Primus Epic cockpit, the system has been modified for the Avanti to include two primary flight displays (pilot and copilot functional) and a single multifunction display. Standard items include the FMZ-2000/CD-820 FMS; DL-950 data loader; Mark V/VII/VIII enhanced ground proximity warning system; RVSM-certified AZ-960/950 air-data computers; Primus 880 weather radar; Primus II integrated radio system; and the LSZ-860 lightning sensor. The system will interface with the existing autopilot.

Optional items include CAS 67 TCAS; Laseref inertial reference systems; GPS; MCS-7000 Aero-I and Aero-H+ satcom, Iridium-based Airsat 1 or Inmarsat-based SCS-100 satcom systems; AIS-100/2000 satellite television; and a runway awareness and advisory system.

The system will come as a complete retrofit package that includes a new central console, wiring harness and a new instrument panel. The retrofit will also come with a five-year warranty. Pricing information for the kit was unavailable. Installation can be done at any Honeywell-approved facility.