Collins’ multiscan radar coming to business jets

 - November 28, 2007, 11:10 AM

More than 100 airlines have selected Rockwell Collins’ multiscan airborne weather radar, billed as the first such system to offer fully automated, “hands-free” scanning capability out to a range of 320 nm. Soon, business jet crews will get the chance to fly with the technology, too.

Collins introduced the RTA-4100 multiscan radar at the NBAA Convention in September, announcing the system will be available for installation in business airplanes by this time next year. The technology is intended to provide a better overall view of storms that is free of ground clutter by using two radar beams aimed at slightly different angles. The automated technique paints a more or less 3-D picture of relevant storms without the crew having to make any manual tilt or gain adjustments.

“MultiScan weather radar will bring a new level of weather situational awareness and operational simplicity to business aircraft operators,” said Denny Helgeson, vice president and general manager of business and regional systems for Rockwell Collins. “It is already well known [to airline pilots] because of its proven capability to give them a complete picture of the weather while reducing workload” because of the radar’s automation.

The key to multiscan operation is the radar’s ability to look down toward the lower reflective portion of a storm cell and automatically eliminate the ground clutter using digital signal-processing techniques pioneered by Rockwell Collins. Unlike conventional airborne weather radar systems that merely sweep the skies ahead and paint a picture of what’s returned, the multiscan technique makes multiple passes of the sky at varying tilt angles and stores all the data in its memory. When the pilots select a desired range, the information from each of the scans is rearranged and merged in a single, coherent picture on the radar display.

The system also provides alerts that allow crew to avoid penetrating thunderstorm tops, which account for a large portion of serious turbulence encounters. Collins claims that “suppression algorithms” that have been perfected since the introduction of multiscan radar in 2000 eliminate 98 percent of ground clutter from the radar display. Each complete cycle of the radar’s flat-plate antenna, including many rapid sweeps of the sky, takes eight seconds. Maximum range of many of the latest conventional airborne radar systems is about 180 nm, although pilots usually fly with the range between 30 and 80 nm.

David Wu, director of flight deck systems marketing for Rockwell Collins, noted that multiscan radar systems have been certified in all Boeing and Airbus aircraft and said the technology will form a key component of the integrated hazard surveillance system aboard the Boeing 787. Collins has been testing the technology in a BBJ on proving flights all around the world in an attempt to improve the radar’s capabilities in places where thunderstorms behave somewhat differently from the norm, such as near the equator or at far northern latitudes. The RTA-4100 radar, he said, will be made available to airplanes equipped with Collins Pro Line 21 and Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics.