Thales introduces helo FMS with joystick control

 - December 10, 2007, 11:37 AM

Advanced human-machine interfaces now making their debut on business jets are finding their way into helicopter cockpits. With a design philosophy similar to that of the Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite, implemented on the Dassault Falcon and Gulfstream business jets under the EASy and PlaneView concepts, the Thales interactive flight management and map system (IFMS) brings a joystick under the rotorcraft pilot’s hand, making navigation and flight management functions available in what the French avionics maker claims will be a simpler way.

The IFMS combines navigation data and a digital map on the same display with a more intuitive human-machine interface. Thales sees the new system as providing better situational awareness and significantly reducing pilot workload because the digital map control device, a joystick, allows quick interaction. For example, the pilot can activate complex FMS functions in a straightforward manner using the joystick.

The IFMS is an option on Thales’ TopDeck suite. It is composed of a navigation module and a digital map module installed in a rack, a digital map control device (typically the joystick), a data transfer device and a multifunction control and display
unit (MCDU). The last appears as the usual FMS interface, with an alphanumeric keyboard.

Flight Planning Options
Thales derived the flight management subsystem from the one already flying on the Agusta A109 light twin. On the digital map subsystem, the map generator works with the FMS to generate a three-layer interactive image. The first layer is the map background–raster only, raster combined with terrain elevation or terrain elevation combined with vector planimetry. The second layer bears the navigation symbology, including waypoints. The interactive menus are located on the third layer.

The joystick simplifies flight plan modifications, thanks to direct designation on the map. “This is very useful if you have to change your route when in flight,” said Jean-Luc Loivet, marketing director for civil applications in Eurocopter models. For example, he said, the joystick replaces 25 to 30 keystrokes on the MCDU with five clicks.

The operator can choose to center the map around the helicopter or move it forward, leaving the helicopter symbol at one-third of the display’s height. The pilot can select one of two orientations, “north up” or “track-up,” where the map is oriented according to the helicopter’s route. In addition, the system can show the area far ahead of the helicopter’s location, helping the pilot to prepare a “B to C” leg while still on the “A to B” leg.

Various scales are available and the pilot can use the joystick to zoom in on a part of the map. The minimum size required for the display is six inches wide and six inches high. The map can either be displayed full screen or on four-fifths of the screen. In the latter presentation, a vertical profile of the terrain appears in the remaining fraction of the screen.

FMS Options
Several special modes are available in the FMS, such as a search-and-rescue pattern mode. It can help the crew fly a “square spiral” around a given place or a ladder-shaped pattern going downstream. It can also help divide a disc-shaped search area into sectors. The “transdown” mode for hoist operations brings the helicopter to zero groundspeed facing into the wind at a given altitude over given coordinates.

Another mode indicates the highest location (terrain or obstacle) between points A and B. The width considered between the two points is twice the required navigation performance, Loivet explained. The pilot can also obtain the altitude of a particular location by clicking on it.

Was Thales’ IFMS inspired by Dassault’s EASy system? No, according to Loivet. “But we heard concurrent needs from the commercial and military fields; for civil applications, the IFMS notably answers a need expressed by Eurocopter for its all-weather helicopter (AWH) technology program,” he added. The IFMS was also inspired by some concepts Thales used on the Airbus A400M military transport and the A380 commercial 550-seater.

Loivet told AIN that although the choice of the joystick as the digital map control device came from the AWH program, Eurocopter’s AWH test pilots have subsequently decided that they prefer a trackball derived from the one used on the A380. Therefore, although the basic system comes with the joystick, customers can choose the device with which they are most comfortable.

The IFMS demonstrator has been operational since early last year for marketing purposes. In the middle of last year, the actual IFMS received its European TSO, meaning it can be installed on civil aircraft, Loivet explained. Due to its price and sophistication, “The IFMS is suitable for medium and heavy helicopters from the size of the EC 135 and EC 145 but not for light singles such as the EC 120,” Loivet pointed out. The IFMS (without the map display unit) costs some 30 to 50 percent more than a conventional FMS. Yet the FMS can be chosen without the interactive map, which remains optional.

As of early December last year, Thales had sold IFMS systems on 50 civil helicopters–all to the same undisclosed customer.

The End?

Cerullo looks back fondly on the day when, during aerial filming for the King Kong remake, he flew between the World Trade Center buildings. However, the chilling image of the second hijacked 767 hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11 will forever be etched into his memory.

On that dark day, Cerullo was flying his helicopter toward New York City on a scouting expedition for an upcoming movie. He was about six miles from the city when he witnessed United Airlines Flight 175 strike the South Tower. “ATC immediately asked me what my intentions were, and I said I wanted to go back to our home base at Republic Airport,” Cerullo told AIN.

“I thought 9/11 was the end of my career since New York City and Washington, D.C., were off limits to air traffic,” he said. “After five or six months, we were able to start doing work in New York again, but there’s obviously no more aerial filming in D.C.”