Universal introduces the 890R, a retrofit cockpit that sizzles

 - October 8, 2007, 5:55 AM

Universal Avionics of Tucson, Ariz., has been quietly strengthening its foothold in the cockpit retrofit market, branching out with a variety of available upgrades based on the company’s flat-panel display technology.

In March Universal unveiled its latest retrofit display suite, the 890R, designed to give business jet operators the option to upgrade their existing cockpits with large displays and controls. Next up for the company will be the long-anticipated certification of its full synthetic-vision flight display system, known as Vision 1.

The 890R control display system features an 8.9-inch diagonal image area and can be installed in two- through four-display PFD and ND (navigation display)/MFD configurations. Certification of the 890R package is expected this month, after which Universal plans to continue work on certifying a version of the suite capable of portraying synthetic-vision images on the PFD. The company has already certified a synthetic view for cockpit MFDs, part of its Vision 1 concept. Best of all, said the company, the upgrade is designed to be as painless as possible, maintaining the majority of an airplane’s current cockpit systems, including the autopilot.

“The 890R suite offers greater flexibility while minimizing the cost and complications associated with full avionics suite replacements,” said Don Berlin, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Vision 1 incorporates technology that provides a three-dimensional, VFR-like view of terrain contours on both the PFD and navigation display. The PFD view of Vision 1 might best be described as a window through which the crew can see images of terrain. The system uses the same sensors and terrain elevation database as the company’s terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), but it is equipped with a higher-power graphics computer that can create the 3-D terrain depictions. Universal is still testing the PFD version of the system and expects certification late this year.

The certified version of Vision 1 on the ND provides an “exocentric” view of the aircraft (essentially that of a wingman at the five-o’clock-high position of the lead aircraft). The ND exocentric view of the aircraft provides a wide-angle 3-D view of the flight-plan route between each waypoint, including all of the fixes on an instrument approach, allowing the pilots to visualize the intended flight path ahead of the aircraft’s position.

Smaller displays (6.4-, 6- and 5.5 inches) from Universal have already been certified and are available as EADI/EHSI upgrades, and these also are expected to be certified with a variety of Vision 1 functionality. Mid-Canada Mod Center recently obtained an STC for a cockpit retrofit of a Challenger 601-1A with the 6.4-inch displays from Universal. The Mississauga, Ontario avionics shop installed four Universal EFI-640 flat-panel flight displays, an MFD-640 multifunction display and TAWS, along with a UNS-1F FMS and handheld Universal Cockpit Display (UCD).

The UCD in the Challenger, operated by a U.S.-based corporate flight department, is integrated with the FMS and includes a navigation chart database and airport diagrams, on which a moving aircraft position indicator appears. The five-display suite includes the replacement of electronic ADI and HSI instruments with four of Universal’s EFI-640 flat-panel displays.

Universal’s line of currently TSO’d flat-panel displays includes the model EFI-550, with 5.5-inch diagonal display and standard EFIS-85 size bezel; the model EFI-600, with six-inch diagonal display and standard 5 ATI size bezel; and the model EFI-640, with 6.4-inch diagonal display and standard 5-by-6 ATI bezel. An 8.9-inch display–the EFI-890–is  projected to be available when the 890R package hits the market this month.

The MFD-640, also with a 6.4-inch display, supports imaging for weather radar systems, TAWS and EGPWS systems, FMS data, traffic systems, uplink weather graphics, lightning-detection systems and video cameras. Its VGA display will also support the Vision 1 synthetic-vision system.

Universal’s displays feature color LCD active matrix technology with good sunlight readability, wide horizontal and vertical viewing angles, high contrast and high resolution. The displays accommodate inputs from a variety of analog and digital sources without the need for external symbol generators or complex switching arrays, the company said.

A five-display Universal suite received an STC in a Falcon 50 six months ago. Developed by IFR Avionics of Van Nuys, Calif., the installation included the replacement of electromechanical or electronic ADI and HSI instruments with four of the EFI-600 flat-panel displays. A prior-phase upgrade to this aircraft by IFR included Universal Avionics’ MFD-640 flat-panel multi-function display, TAWS (terrain awareness and warning system) and dual UNS-1C F