Special Report: Major Cockpit Retrofits

 - June 1, 2007, 11:04 AM

The scene was straight out of a science fiction movie. Thick coils of wire wound like serpents along the pale green walls. More wire slithered up from the floor in bundles as thick as rope. Part of an overhead instrument panel hung from the ceiling, suspended by yet more wires. The power levers and rudder pedals remained, but nearly everything else readily recognizable to a pilot–the control columns, seats, gauges, radios and annunciator lights–had been ripped from the cockpit to reveal the utter chaos behind the instrument panel.

Squeezed into a hangar at Duncan Aviation’s modification center in Lincoln, Neb., the lackluster 17-year-old Falcon 50 was undergoing a transformation that would shed years from its well worn façade, both inside the cockpit and throughout the rest of its now empty shell. From the nose to the tail, workers had finished gutting nearly all of the major equipment inside the airplane. Technicians crawled over the remains as preparations were made to bring on board a jigsaw puzzle of new furnishings and avionics.

The empty husk of the passenger compartment revealed more heavy wire bundles running along the walls and disappearing into the depths of the baggage area. Eerily devoid of the usual cascading wood veneer cabinets and stately leather seats, the cabin was now quite literally in hands of a small army of unseen craftsmen who were busily fabricating materials in Duncan’s wood and leather shops. Sitting alone on a simple workbench outside the airplane was the new instrument panel, milled from a piece of solid aluminum and ready to accept a modern suite of Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 flight displays.

The thought of putting a functional business airplane through the upheaval of a major cockpit retrofit probably gives most chief pilots and flight-department managers heart palpitations. Signing a check with so many zeros on it certainly stops some owners cold in their tracks. Confusion–and even a certain amount of misinformation–about available retrofit options makes for difficult choices when it comes time to decide which, if any, cockpit upgrade makes the most sense for a given airplane.

And let’s face it, the time it takes to perform even a relatively straightforward installation can be a deal breaker for many others. Two or three months of downtime usually isn’t an option unless the airplane will also be going in for fresh paint and interior or a major maintenance inspection–and those extras only add yet more downtime.

But for the unique subset of business airplanes with hull values high enough to justify the expense and production dates far enough in the past that they’re likely to be equipped with older electromechanical or early CRT instruments, an upgrade to glass displays can draw back the curtain on a world of possibility.

The Gestating Glass-panel Market
Merely recreating the blue-over-brown ADI presentation that’s been around since the 1930s with the original Sperry artificial horizon is one thing; transforming the flight deck into an information nerve center is quite another. Active-matrix LCD flight displays bring added capabilities for presentation of color weather maps delivered via satellite datalink. Cockpit file servers can hold dozens of binders worth of procedure charts within their hard drives, as well as interactive checklists and links to video from external cameras or an infrared enhanced-vision system.

Unless you’re flying a business jet manufactured less than seven years ago, chances are the newest technology at your disposal is round dials, CRT screens and maybe a handheld electronic flight bag (EFB) computer for storing digital approach charts. Still, the trend toward flat-panel glass displays in aging airplanes hasn’t caught on the way avionics manufacturers and installers thought it would when the first flight-deck upgrades arrived five or so years ago. Activity appears to be picking up as choices grow and prices start edging down, but there remains ample resistance to the idea of completely overhauling the instrument panel.

“We’ve taken a look at some of the upgrade options that are available,” said a captain for an East Coast flight department that operates a 13-year-old Falcon 900B. “But spending $500,000 or $750,000 for a glass cockpit just doesn’t make a lot of sense for us right now. What we’ve got up front works fine.”

That sentiment is shared by the scores of professional aviators who certainly wouldn’t mind flying with the latest hardware but who also realize the decision to upgrade the company airplane’s cockpit with the latest technology is connected with other factors. The big-three equipment manufacturers–Rockwell Collins, Honeywell and Universal Avionics–report that the vast majority of buyers of retrofit cockpit systems wait until it’s time for paint and interior or a C check before installing an upgraded LCD cockpit. “I would say that every single one of our customers lately has tied the panel upgrade with some other major installation or maintenance check,” said Chad Cundiff, vice president of crew interface products for Honeywell.

There aren’t any FAA mandates requiring the use of flat-panel displays, and there aren’t likely to be any in the near future. That can present challenges for avionics dealers and installers who have gone to the expense of developing STC programs or who have partnered with the manufacturers on certification but can’t find buyers willing to foot the bill for flight-deck makeovers.

Rockwell Collins’s first stab at the cockpit retrofit market, a comprehensive upgrade package named Pro Line 21 Continuum, called for a dramatic front-office renovation that involved upgrading the flight management systems, adding new-generation digital radios and replacing the autopilot. The trouble was, almost nobody was willing to pay the millions of dollars such a complete transformation required.

Forced to return to the drawing board, the company started anew with a concept called Pro Line 21 IDS (integrated display system). This option retained the original autopilot and many other big-ticket items but offered a pathway for replacing the gauges and CRT screens with 8- by 10-inch LCDs, the same displays that business jet manufacturers are installing at the factory today in brand-new models.

“We got to a point where we realized that if we could leave much of the existing avionics system alone and offer just the basic display upgrade, it would translate to a lot less money and a lot less downtime,” said Tim Rayl, senior director of business and regional systems marketing for Rockwell Collins. “Then the operators could have the choice of adding more functionality later.”

Since that time, the rest of the market has followed a similar path. Honeywell introduced Primus Epic CDS/R (control display system/ retrofit), an integrated system based on the Primus Epic platform flying in a number of the newest business airplanes. Like the Collins upgrade, the Honeywell package in most cases leaves the original autopilot and many other major components in place.

Universal Avionics, meanwhile, is the only manufacturer to offer synthetic-vision system (SVS) capability in Part 25 airplanes, a factor that has led to a flurry of activity as buyers race to add the company’s EFI-890R retrofit cockpit. The Vision 1 SVS portion of the Universal system recreates a view of the outside world on the flight displays, showing hills, mountains, obstacles and bodies of water. Honeywell and Gulfstream are developing a similar concept for the G300 through G550, but there has been no word on when an SVS upgrade might be made available to buyers of the Primus Epic CDS/R system.

Worth the Price?
Hardware prices from the various manufacturers can land all over the map depending on the airplane type, the amount of work required and the particular system that’s chosen. Just as important a consideration as which retrofit cockpit to purchase is the decision about which optional systems will interface with the new gear.

Some installers compare the process of installing LCD displays in the airplane with hooking up cable television at home. In the early days of cable tv there were only a few dozen channels. Today, there are hundreds of channels to choose from, including access to pay-per-view movies, sporting events, specialized programming packages and, in many homes, high-speed Internet access through a cable modem. Likewise, upgrading to glass displays alone offers crisper images, but not until buyers start adding advanced functionality can the full potential of the retrofit be realized.

“A major cockpit retrofit brings a host of capabilities to the table,” said Paul Deherrera, vice president of marketing and product support for Universal Avionics. “The ability to overlay TCAS and weather on the flight plan, some of those core elements are things that many pilots still don’t have. When you’re flying with an electromechanical-based cockpit, you don’t realize what you’re missing out on until you start digging deeper and begin learning what capabilities are offered.” Adding just a moving map to the cockpit can greatly enhance situational awareness, he said. Begin layering terrain, weather and traffic information on that picture and it’s easy to see why more business jet operators are signing up for display upgrades.

Of course, all this capability comes at a price. Sticking with figures that include the cost for installation, here are some ballpark numbers: A full upgrade to Pro Line 21 in a Falcon 50 including a new autopilot, weather radar, radios, TCAS and Collins’s integrated flight information system (IFIS) onboard file server will run about $2.3 million on average, according to installers. That’s about as close as you’ll get to the top echelon for a cockpit retrofit. A less involved display upgrade built around the Pro Line 21 IDS glass in a Hawker 800, while retaining the original autopilot, will run between $700,000 and $850,000. A similar installation of the Primus Epic CDS/R system, this time in a Falcon 900, will cost about $835,000, installers report.

Universal’s EFI-890R cockpit, meanwhile, comes in a bit lower, setting buyers back about $580,000 for a four-display installation in a Challenger 600, plus another $45,000 for SVS on the pilot’s PFD and $80,000 for SVS on both of the PFDs.

Considering what a brand-new airplane costs and the array of new capabilities avionics manufacturers are offering, it’s easy to understand why these sub-million-dollar prices are starting to pique the interest of would-be buyers.

Weighing on the minds of business jet operators is the worry that the installation will hit snags and delay the airplane’s return to service. The upgrade might have been performed by a competent installer with technical support from a major avionics manufacturer, but the FAA still needs to sign off on the work. If the inspector has questions about the installation–or worse, demands that certain elements of the job be redone–the airplane can end up remaining in the shop for far longer than anybody anticipated.

And price and downtime aren’t the only considerations when weighing the pros and cons of a major cockpit retrofit. Buyers should ask themselves how long they plan to keep the airplane and how long, realistically, they anticipate the airplane will remain in service before it needs another front-office makeover. Manufacturers and installers generally agree a display upgrade purchased today will have a lifespan of about 10 years. Beyond that, new technologies and mandates will probably require changing out the displays and the computer and graphics processors that drive them.

“In many ways, avionics mirrors the personal computer industry as far as obsolescence is concerned,” said Andy Biller, director of avionics sales and marketing for Duncan Aviation. “You used to able to keep your FMS for 15 years, but that’s not the case any more. The same holds true for this new breed of major display retrofit.”

The FAA issues only a five-year strategic plan spelling out its vision for the future. That makes it difficult for avionics manufacturers to predict what technology might be required in the long term or to educate buyers. The latest integrated avionics systems rely heavily on software for many functions, but almost inevitably the FAA will develop requirements and mandates calling for installation of avionics that will necessitate additional advanced hardware–some of which has yet to be devised and developed.

It’s impossible to say what avionics might be required a decade from now, but a whole host of technologies are receiving consideration and could eventually emerge as the next major avionics retrofit, similar to the situations with reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) and terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS).

The RVSM and TAWS mandates required many operators to install expensive equipment in the name of efficiency and safety. The FAA is now considering mandates that would require installation of advanced equipment for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) traffic surveillance and required navigation performance (RNP) that will allow aircraft to fly new procedures with much tighter lateral and vertical tolerances than exist today. Avionics makers are also busy developing the next generation of synthetic- and enhanced-vision system capabilities, which eventually might be fused to create new flight display layouts and symbology showing a computer-generated view of the world ahead, overlaid with a scene from a forward-looking infrared camera. All of this new technology will create a need for even more advanced graphics capabilities than exist in the most capable retrofit cockpit available today.

Murky Figures
Another factor influencing the decision about whether to upgrade the cockpit deals with how a major retrofit will affect the airplane’s resale value. Installing a suite of glass displays is a little like adding a gourmet kitchen to your house, experts say. In both cases you’ll unlock possibilities for new creations or capabilities while impressing your neighbors (even if they’re hangar neighbors), but whether it’s a kitchen or cockpit you’ll likely never recoup the full value of the work when it’s time to sell.

Paul Wyatt, editor of the Aircraft Bluebook price digest, said it’s difficult to gauge the effect a cockpit retrofit will have on resale value because so few airplanes that have undergone these major transformations have sold on the open market. But anecdotal evidence suggests a major cockpit retrofit will hold its value better than some other avionics upgrades.

“From what I see, this type of mod does not depreciate nearly as rapidly as individual instruments do,” he said. A complete cockpit makeover including a new autopilot would likely be worth 75 percent of the installed price for at least five years, he predicted. “We don’t have anything concrete, however,” he added. “When we research price trends, we always make note of the level of equipment as we scan our reported sold prices from dealers and brokers. These extensive panel modifications certainly add value.”

Avionics dealers on the front lines of customer negotiations are faced with this question each time they give a sales presentation. Rather than quoting hard numbers, installers such as Duncan Aviation merely try to show that even if a cockpit retrofit holds only between 50 and 75 percent of its value, the customer comes out even when it’s time to sell the airplane. “There is little if any good data about residual value” after completing major avionics upgrade, said Duncan’s Biller. “Aircraft depreciate and so do avionics. This is a new phenomenon and so far it has involved a little bit of a guessing process. Customers understand that.”

Business airplanes ripe for major avionics retrofits include some of the most popular models built in the last 30 years. The so-called market “sweet spots” include the Dassault Falcon 20, 50 and 900; Gulfstream II and III; Challenger 600 and 601; Learjet 35A; Hawker 700 and 800; Cessna 500 and 650; Astra; the King Air line; Pilatus PC-12; and Piaggio Avanti.

Each of the business jets on this list was built with avionics that are now showing their age. But these airplanes are still valuable enough to justify the expense of a fairly extensive cockpit makeover. The turboprops listed here might not fit as neatly into the formula for value versus upgrade cost, but many of these airplanes are flown by owner-pilots who seem more willing to pay a premium to fly with the latest avionics.

So who decides which airplanes are good candidates for major cockpit retrofits? Generally, the avionics manufacturers determine which models to target with upgrades, but dealers and even airframe OEMs also have some input in the process. For example, if an installation center agrees to incur the majority of the cost for an STC program, an avionics maker is more likely to give a certain project the green light. By the same token, if an aircraft manufacturer is against supporting a specific retrofit program, avionics makers and dealers are apt to think twice.

One good example of an airplane that isn’t likely to be eligible for a cockpit upgrade anytime soon even though customers have expressed interest is the Challenger 604. This model came from the factory with a CRT-based avionics system and certainly has a value high enough to justify the expense of a display upgrade, but manufacturer Bombardier does not want one to become available because its sales people are busy promoting the new Challenger 605–essentially a 604 with a Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite and some other enhancements. Bombardier worries that sales of the 605 will suffer if current 604 owners can upgrade the cockpit for less than the cost of moving up to the new airplane.

Bombardier’s Global Express also flies with a CRT-based cockpit, the Primus 2000XP system from Honeywell. It is reasonable to assume that Global Express operators eventually will be clamoring for an LCD upgrade, but considering that brand-new Global Expresses and Global 5000s coming off the production line in Montreal are still equipped with the CRT cockpits, Bombardier is unlikely to give the go ahead for such a project. Also, given that the major avionics makers have such close ties to the OEMs on new (and future) airplane programs, there’s little chance of Collins or Honeywell launching an upgrade program for the Global series without Bombardier’s blessing.

A recent trend in the cockpit retrofit market has seen airframe manufacturers initiate upgrade programs on their own with the assistance of smaller avionics makers. These lesser known companies don’t have the track records of the established players, but they can offer hardware prices that are lower, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Cessna recently announced a Citation upgrade program through a partnership with Innovative Solutions & Support. Known for its low-cost RVSM hardware, IS&S has recently shifted its attention to the cockpit retrofit market with a panel upgrade for the Pilatus PC-12 that sells for less than $200,000 installed. Contrast that with the major panel makeovers from Rockwell Collins and it’s easy to see why the smaller players are beginning to gain traction in this market.

Cessna recently placed an order with IS&S for an undisclosed number of flat-panel displays that will be offered as part of the upgrade program for operators of older Citations. Installations will be performed at the 34 authorized Cessna Service Centers worldwide. About 4,000 Citations are candidates for the retrofit. Jim Riley, IS&S’s CFO, said an internal survey conducted by his company showed that around 2,500 Citations are “long overdue” for front-office makeovers.

The deal is a huge potential source of revenue for Exton, Pa.-based IS&S as it seeks to get its fledgling cockpit displays business off the ground. IS&S holds an STC for the retrofit in the Pilatus PC-12 and is installing glass cockpits in Boeing 767s for cargo airline ABX Air, but this is its first deal involving an aircraft manufacturer. More recently, Eclipse Aviation selected IS&S displays to replace the Avidyne equipment in the Eclipse 500 very light jet.

Gulfstream’s sister company, General Dynamics Aviation Services (GDAS), has partnered with Sagem Avionics on a glass-panel cockpit upgrade for Part 25 jets including the Gulfstream II and III, Challenger 600 and 601, Falcon 20 and 50 and Hawker 700 and 800. The upgrade comprises five 10.4-inch-diagonal displays, which include a PFD and MFD in front of each pilot with an eicas display in the center. The so-called Sagem integrated cockpit display system (ICDS) functions with the airplane’s existing digital radar and attitude heading reference system, or buyers can opt for new fiber-optic gyros.

Sagem Avionics and GDAS’s Dallas facility are installing the first system in a Gulfstream II, and it should receive FAA supplemental type certification soon. Once that happens, any GDAS facility will be able to install the Sagem ICDS retrofit. The upgrade costs less than $400,000 installed, said Ross Cairns, Sagem Avionics vice president for business development, adding that it offers practical enhancements including a weight reduction. “It’s too early to say how much weight the Sagem Avionics retrofit will save, but it’s going to be fairly significant,” Cairns said. Equipment removed includes primary flight and engine instruments, radar display, TCAS/traffic resolution display, navigation switching and engine instruments.

A Look at the Major Players
Despite the best efforts of the airframe OEMs, installers report that buyers, given the choice, are more inclined to stick with the names they know and trust. Here’s a rundown of the top-selling avionics retrofit options:

As noted earlier, Pro Line 21 for the retrofit market comes in two versions: the display-only upgrade called IDS and a “major retrofit” involving the replacement of big-ticket items such as the weather radar, autopilot and flight management systems. To date, Collins has completed nearly two dozen major retrofits, most of them in the King Air 200 and 350, Falcon 20 and 50 and Challenger 601. On the Pro Line 21 IDS side of its ledger, Collins has additional STCs covering the Astra, Hawker 700 and 800, Piaggio Avanti, Gulfstream III, Falcon 2000, Cessna 501 and 550, Falcon 200 and 50 and King Air 90, 200 and 350.

Fleet-wide upgrades have accounted for the majority of major Pro Line 21 retrofits, said Rayl. Transport Canada’s Aircraft Services Directorate is in the process of updating its fleet of nine Citation 550s with Pro Line 21 IDS at Mid-Canada Mod Center in Toronto. The Pro Line 21 IDS upgrades feature three eight- by 10-inch liquid crystal displays, turbulence weather radar and IFIS. Additionally, Transport Canada will be adding Collins FMS units, Pro Line 21 CNS radios and TCAS.

Installers have completed 15 or so IDS upgrades, with another six currently in the pipeline. The top installation centers for the Collins gear include Duncan Aviation, Landmark Aviation, Superior Air Center, Premier Air Center and JetWorks. Rayl noted that a surprising number of King Airs, including many military C-12s, have received the IDS upgrade. Perhaps helping to explain the popularity of the retrofit avionics in these models is the fact that new King Air 350s and B200s built by Hawker Beechcraft are also fitted with Pro Line 21 integrated avionics.

The Falcon 50 at Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln, Neb. mod center that looked as though it was part of a science project gone wrong was about to receive a major Pro Line 21 display upgrade when AIN visited the hangar in late April. The installation is one example of the success of the installer’s so-called Glass Box Project, a major effort aimed at developing the in-house expertise to reduce installation downtime while offering product packages that make the most sense for customers. Duncan has partnered with Rockwell Collins, Honeywell and Universal on the project, which has grown to include a long list of STC candidates.

To help cut through the confusion that often accompanies the retrofit buying process, Rockwell Collins has added a “Build a Flight Deck” interactive tool to its Web site. The special section lets visitors select their aircraft model from a drop-down list and then configure the cockpit with various display layouts and optional equipment. Selecting the GIII, as an example, takes users to a page that prompts them to select a three- or four-display Pro Line 21 IDS configuration. From there, the user can view a photo of what the installation might look like and select optional equipment such as an IFIS file server for displaying uploaded charts and checklists, AHRS-1000A attitude and heading reference system, turbulence weather radar and TCAS.

Once visitors select the equipment they’re interested in they can save the configuration and are prompted to fill out a form to receive more information or skip the signup and just download the configuration to a printable Adobe Acrobat file. “We’re glad we did that,” Rayl said. “It lets people personalize the solution for their airplane and get a feel for what it might look like a lot better than a generic ad does.”
Honeywell has attacked the cockpit retrofit market with the same fervor as Rockwell Collins, betting on strengthening demand for such upgrades among Falcon, Hawker, Challenger and Citation operators. Installation partner Landmark Aviation recently retrofitted a Honeywell Primus Epic CDS/R integrated avionics system in a Gulfstream III package that included Honeywell’s Mark VII class-A TAWS (terrain awareness and warning system) and RAAS (runway awareness and advisory system). The Primus Epic system was integrated in the GIII while retaining the original FMS and Collins Pro Line II radios.

Performed at Landmark’s Springfield, Ill. facility, the modification allows a Gulfstream III’s flight data to be displayed on a trio of flat-panel liquid crystal displays consolidating primary flight information, weather, TCAS and TAWS functions. The pilots can control a number of functions with drop-down menus and call up interactive navigation pages that allow simultaneous display of traffic, terrain and electronic approach charts.

Many readers will recall the series of articles appearing in AIN last year that chronicled the transformation of a 1991 Falcon 900 operated by Volo Aviation. Titled “Renovation Hardware,” the article followed the aging Falcon as it underwent a tip-to-tail makeover including Primus Epic CDS/R avionics up front. That cockpit installation hit its share of snags along the way, with the FAA insisting on additional qualification/assurance testing before it would grant a TSO. The Falcon emerged from Duncan’s fountain of youth in time to show off its new cockpit, paint job and a stunning interior at last fall’s NBAA Convention in Orlando, Fla.

Rounding out the “big three,” Universal Avionics offers its EFI-890R retrofit avionics system in a variety of business airplanes spanning the Challenger 600 and 601-3A, Citation 500 and 650, Falcon 10, 20 and 50, King Air B300 and Pilatus PC-12, among others. The Tucson, Ariz. avionics maker also offers flat-panel upgrades using display sizes smaller than the 890R’s 8.9-inch-diagonal presentation. Depending on the application, Universal offers additional EFI cockpit displays in sizes ranging from 5.5 inches diagonal to 6.4 inches.

Universal’s major installation partners include Stevens Aviation and Premier/West Star, both of which have completed projects incorporating the EFI-890R package. Stevens Aviation’s Memphis, Tenn. facility was close to certifying an EFI-890R synthetic-vision glass panel in a Learjet 25 at press time. The company also is embarking on a similar project for the Learjet 35 series called the “Learjet 35 Forever” modification. This upgrade will include the EFI-890R avionics, Raisbeck Engineering’s ZR Lite and locker systems, a new interior and Avcon’s RVSM solution.
“We like to think it’s competitive with a new Learjet 40,” said Ivan Wilson, Stevens Aviation vice president for engineering and certification, “at less than half the cost with similar range and mission capability.” The Learjet 35’s new avionics suite will be much lighter, Wilson added, thanks to removal of the jet’s heavy “iron” gyros and instruments and a new wiring harness. Stevens’ Denver base will perform the Learjet 35 Forever modifications. The company has not yet announced pricing for the program.

IFR Avionics in Van Nuys, Calif., meanwhile, is close to completing the first four-display installation of the EFI-890R package in a GIII. The integrated system includes Universal’s application server for viewing electronic charts on the MFDs and displaying streaming satellite weather from WSI, as well as the digitally rendered skies made possible through inclusion of SVS. IFR Avionics president Jim Lauer said synthetic vision and price are the primary inducements for buyers weighing the choice of Universal’s retrofit product line against competitors’ offerings. “Pilots really want SVS once they’ve seen it,” Lauer said. “There’s no substitute for having the mountains right there in front of you on the flight displays.”

Universal and Elliott Aviation recently notched an important European certification for the Vision 1 SVS, receiving ETSO approval for the product from the European Aviation Safety Agency in late March. Elliott performed the EFI-890R installation in a French-registered Falcon 10 at its Moline, Ill. headquarters. Vision 1 can create real-time computer-generated renderings of the terrain ahead of the aircraft on the EFI-890R, MFD-640 or EFI-550 flat-panel LCD displays. Hills and mountains appear in shades of green and brown while oceans and other large bodies of water are colored blue. Special shading on the digitized terrain and the grid overlay conforms to the landscape on the synthetic world and provides a sense of movement in flight. A number of Challengers are now being fitted with the avionics at Ruag in Germany.

A Crowded Market Landscape
The traditional “major” avionics manufacturers aren’t the only players in the suddenly burgeoning retrofit market. Chelton Flight Systems made a name for itself by becoming the first avionics manufacturer to certify SVS in civil aviation. The company’s FlightLogic EFIS has become a popular retrofit option with King Air owners. Nascar team owner Evernham Motorsports was among the early adopters of the retrofit system, installing FlightLogic in its King Air 200. Besides King Airs, the EFIS is starting to appear in a number of Cessna Citation 501 cockpits and has caught on in a big way with helicopter operators. Starting price for the hardware is around $80,000.

As is the case with Universal’s Vision 1 cockpit, the SVS capability offered by Chelton’s FlightLogic is a big part of the reason why the product has become so popular. Now, Chelton and technology partner Kollsman say they are one step closer to introducing integrated display symbology that overlays Chelton’s FlightLogic primary flight view with the infrared video image of Kollsman’s Gavis (general aviation vision system), a forward-looking EVS camera system.

The companies signed a nondisclosure agreement late last year after announcing the collaboration at the NBAA Convention last October. Chelton’s next-generation displays will be the platform for the integration software, which will present the infrared enhanced-vision image on the new type of VGA screens. Unlike other synthetic-vision systems that show only a computer-generated model of the scene ahead, the Chelton/Kollsman system will present live video from the small camera mounted in the nose of the aircraft. Pilots will be able to switch between the synthetic and enhanced EFIS views, selecting the presentation best suited for the circumstances.

For example, the infrared camera cannot see through solid clouds but it is beneficial at night and in certain low-visibility conditions, such as haze. Chelton thinks helicopter pilots especially will benefit from the technology, which can overlay synthetic views of obstacles and runways on the IR image for an extra layer of protection at low altitude.

Having a real-time infrared image of the operating environment on the PFD also lets the pilots see other aircraft, ground vehicles, people or animals on the runway. “The integration of an actual forward-looking infrared camera will blend in the real world and enhance the image,” noted Chelton Flight Systems president Gordon Pratt. “A better image will mean safer takeoffs, landings and flight in the vicinity of terrain, especially at night.”

For a company that freely concedes it wondered where its revenue would be generated once the market for RVSM upgrades began to cool after the mandate passed, Innovative Solutions & Support has suddenly become an important player. From its newfound responsibilities as display supplier on the Eclipse 500 to its exclusive aftermarket agreement with Cessna, the company appears to be having little trouble making the transition from component supplier to cockpit integrator.

IS&S’s major involvement in business aviation beyond the Eclipse and Cessna programs has been the handful of installations completed for Pilatus PC-12 operators with partners Western Aircraft in Boise, Idaho and Epps Aviation in Atlanta. IS&S received an STC for a cockpit retrofit incorporating 15-inch-diagonal displays in the Pilatus PC-12 a year ago and more recently has followed the approval with a version of the system for the PC-12 incorporating four 10-inch displays.

The Cockpit/IP flat-panel display system from IS&S gives PC-12 owners “Part 25 performance capabilities at less than Part 23” costs, according to IS&S president Roman Ptakowski. Replacing the single-engine turboprop’s original EFIS 40 CRT screens with the IS&S hardware costs around $250,000 for the 15-inch flat panels and about $190,000 for the 10-inch displays. Both prices include the cost of installation.

With the Cockpit/IP system, PC-12 owners gain all the instrumentation required by FAA regulations, such as TCAS (for Part 135 operations), TAWS and RVSM, as well as the digital flat-panel representations on the PFDs of attitude direction indicator, horizontal situation indicator, altimeter, airspeed, vertical speed and radio magnetic indicator.

Avidyne, meanwhile, has teamed with autopilot maker S-Tec to bring an avionics retrofit package called Alliant to the King Air 200 and 90 series. The display swap serves as a replacement for many of the airplanes’ original analog gauges, bringing integrated glass displays, digital automatic flight controls, modern air-data computers and additional capabilities to the venerable turboprop’s flight deck.

“The King Air is really a sweet spot in the market,” noted Mark Sandeen, vice president of sales and marketing for Avidyne. “In addition to the glass, a lot of operators are looking for a place to put XM satellite weather and electronic charts. For them, a retrofit like this really starts making a lot of sense.”

Besides updating the look of the cockpit, Sandeen said, Alliant offers practical benefits– chief among them an average weight saving of around 150 pounds thanks to the displays, which include not only the liquid-crystal glass but also the electronic brains of the system and links to a high-speed communications databus. The quoted list price for Alliant hardware is around $170,000, plus $60,000 to $80,000 for installation, which requires downtime of around two months, Sandeen said.

For that price buyers receive two 10.4-inch-diagonal EXP5000 primary flight displays, dual integrated air-data/attitude heading reference systems (ADAHRS), a 5.5-inch-
diagonal EX500 multifunction display (with optional XM weather and CMax aeronautical chart capabilities), S-Tec’s Intelliflight 2100 autopilot and a Mid-Continent two-inch standby instrument.

Avidyne officials recently announced another retrofit cockpit option that allows the installation of its Envision glass cockpit in most Cessna 300- and 400-series airplanes. Developed jointly by Avidyne and Southern Star Avionics, an avionics facility in Mobile, Ala., the STC covers about 5,000 Cessna 400-series piston twins and 6,000 Cessna 300-series aircraft. Hardware prices for the Cessna upgrades start at around $40,000.

There’s no question that Garmin has made its mark in the realm of avionics retrofits. The company’s GNS 430 and 530 GPS/navcoms are as ubiquitous as any single product line in the history of the industry. But Garmin has not been as quick to enter the major cockpit retrofit market as its competitors. The company last year introduced a retrofit version of the G1000 cockpit for the King Air C90, but it hasn’t followed that announcement with others as some predicted.

'Special Report: Major Cockpit Retrofits' PDF