Advanced cockpits reinvented for newest business aircraft

 - May 1, 2008, 2:07 PM

The pace of airplane introductions in the first half of the year has bordered
on frenetic. Cessna started things off in late January by introducing the Citation Columbus, Gulfstream followed suit in mid-March with the announcement of the G650 and just last month Embraer gave the green light to a pair of midsize jets slotted into its lineup between the Phenom 300 and Legacy 600. What all of these airplanes have in common are their advanced cockpits, developed around old ideas about avionics integration but updated to take advantage of new technologies.

The PlaneView II cockpit for the Gulfstream G650 represents an “evolutionary step” forward from the current PlaneView system flying in the G350/450/500/550, according to system developers. PlaneView is itself an outgrowth of the Primus Epic integrated avionics system from Honeywell, originally introduced almost a dozen years ago and flying today aboard a variety of business jets including all new Falcons (in the form of the Dassault EASy cockpit), the Cessna Citation Sovereign, the Hawker 4000 and soon the Embraer Lineage.

Honeywell developed Primus Epic to grow and evolve as technology changed. That philosophy is allowing Gulfstream to bring PlaneView II to the G650 without making major architectural changes from the cockpits flying in its other top models. In fact, the G650’s flight displays will be identical in size to those in the G350/450/500/550 and will incorporate the same drop-down-style menus and graphical flight planning tools as the current models do, as well as synthetic-vision technology, RNP approach capability and other technologies that are available in current-production Gulfstreams as part of the latest PlaneView software version.

“We have a lot of carryover from the G450 and G550 to the G650,” explained Mike Mena, director for advanced cockpit development at Gulfstream. “Take, for example, synthetic vision. That’s going to be rolled into the G650, but as we design and develop new SVS features and capabilities for our G450/550, we can easily bring them to the G650.” Even though PlaneView II represents a big step ahead, “there is still enough commonality that we can carry technology forward through software upgrades,” he said.

While software changes are the primary way of adding capabilities to PlaneView II, there will be several notable upgrades to the hardware in the G650 cockpit as well, Mena said. One of them is the inclusion of a standby multifunction controller (SMC) that combines the functionality of the traditional display controller with standby instruments and other features. Where the G550 has an electronic standby attitude indicator and HSI in the middle of the panel just below each PFD, the G650 will instead incorporate these instruments into the SMCs’ three-inch by four-inch high-resolution LCDs. The SMCs will also be used as weather radar control panels and for display of other information such as engine oil, hydraulic fluid and tire pressure states and refueling controls.

 In normal operation the SMC remains in whatever mode the pilot selected last. In case of a PFD failure, the system is smart enough to call up the standby instruments automatically, although the pilots can still access all the other SMC menus as needed. While the Honeywell-designed unit is highly integrated with the rest of PlaneView II, it is also a separate, self-contained air-data system with its own internal ADAHRS, Mena noted. Just as there are two display controllers in the G550, there will be two SMCs per cockpit in the G650.

A Radar that Remembers
Another upgrade to the G650’s cockpit is the multiscan RDR-4000 weather radar from Honeywell. The same radar system that is flying aboard the Airbus A380, the RDR-4000 uses so-called volumetric scanning techniques to search the sky from the ground to 60,000 feet and enter that information into a three-dimensional database. The radar completes 18 vertical scans across a 180-degree horizontal sweep per cycle and stores what it sees in its memory. On the MFD, weather appears in a traditional top-down view as well as vertically on a separate portion of the display, providing a more complete view of weather even as the airplane maneuvers around cells, Mena said.

The radar automatically removes ground clutter by comparing radar returns against an internal terrain database. Position and heading inputs are validated against the terrain database so that all the pilots ever see are the actual weather returns–unless they want to see the ground. The radar also has a ground-mapping feature that will let the crew show the terrain or a shoreline if they choose. The RDR-4000 also incorporates turbulence detection and, as an option, predictive wind-shear alerting.

A third major area of improvement in PlaneView II is the airplane’s next-generation FMS. According to Mena, the system will incorporate additional graphical flight planning capabilities such as 4-D flight planning for required time of arrival control. RNP 0.1 approach capability will also be included standard with the FMS, as will new perf tools that are based on the actual tables in the airplane flight manual. This will mean the performance that pilots see on the CDU will match exactly with the figures presented in the AFM.

Another feature of the new FMS, said Mena, is the ability to create and store a secondary flight plan. “This is something that’s totally new,” he said. “The secondary flight plan has the same capability as the active flight plan, and that’s good for pilots in case they need to divert or ask, ‘What if?’” The secondary flight plan appears on the CDU as a second list of waypoints and on the MFD in white next to the active flight plan in magenta. Pilots can select the secondary flight plan at any time, which then turns magenta to signify it is active.

Honeywell and Rockwell Collins announced the development programs for their Primus Epic and Pro Line 21 cockpits at the 1996 NBAA Convention, each touting the systems for their high level of integration and ability to grow and adapt by incorporating new technologies over time. In some ways Honeywell is far ahead of Rockwell Collins in the race to realize these goals (integration of synthetic vision and RNP approach capabilities in the G450 and G550 are examples of this), but Collins plans to catch up fast.

Pro Line Fusion is the latest iteration of the Pro Line 21 integrated cockpit from the Cedar Rapids, Iowa avionics maker, and in the last six months it has won the lion’s share of new business from OEMs. Bombardier was the first to commit to Pro Line Fusion, announcing at the NBAA Convention last fall that the cockpit (called Global Vision) will replace the Honeywell Primus 2000XP avionics in the Global Express XRS and Global 5000. Contracts from Cessna for the Columbus and Embraer for the MSJ and MLJ that soon followed mean Collins engineers will have their work cut out for them as they seek concurrent certifications for Fusion in these airplanes, and possibly others yet to be announced.

All of the new Fusion-equipped models are scheduled to enter flight testing on a pace such that overlapping of the programs will be inevitable. Bombardier says Pro Line Fusion-equipped Globals will enter service in 2011; Cessna is planning a service entry date of 2014 for the Columbus; and Embraer said it expects the MSJ to enter service in 2012 and the MLJ in 2013. Gulfstream, meanwhile, has announced a service entry target for the G650 of mid-2012.

Pro Line Fusion expands on the ideas first introduced in the development of Pro Line 21 by incorporating four “pillars” that are driving the design philosophy behind the system. These are: improved situational awareness; intuitive user interface; flexible, adaptable integration; and the addition of information-enabled technology. Not only do the pillars form the basis for current system design, but they will also play a role in future versions of the cockpit, said Chip Gilkison, flight deck systems marketing manager at Rockwell Collins. “The features we’ll offer in the Citation Columbus, for example, are just the beginning of features we’ll be able to offer in the Columbus and other platforms that Pro Line Fusion will be on,” he said.

Fusion in the Columbus
Studying the Citation Columbus cockpit provides a good over-view of the technologies Collins is planning to bring to airplanes that will fly with Pro Line Fusion. The airplane’s WXR-2100 multiscan weather radar (an example of improved situational awareness) can operate in fully automatic mode, whereby the radar’s computer, and not the crew, sets the tilt and gain. All the pilots need to do is choose the range, which is claimed to be as far as 320 nm, and the radar’s computer does the rest.

The WXR-2100 emulates an ideal radar beam by merging information from different radar scans into a single weather picture. Multiple antenna scans are optimized for a particular region in front of the aircraft (short-, medium- or long-range weather) by automatically adjusting tilt and gain. Unlike Honeywell’s RDR-4000, the Collins radar merges the data into a digital picture and eliminates ground clutter using special “suppression algorithms” that take into account the earth’s curvature. Each multiscan cycle takes about eight seconds to complete in automatic mode and a little more than 11 seconds in wind-shear mode.

Pro Line Fusion will also incorporate synthetic- and enhanced- vision technologies. In the Citation Columbus SVS will be standard and EVS optional, Gilkison said. Collins is studying the feasibility of fusing EVS with SVS images on the MFD and head-up guidance system, and has even tested the idea with NASA. A certification basis for such a merging of technologies does not yet exist, Gilkison conceded, but he believes sensor fusion eventually will become a reality.

Another technology that Rockwell Collins plans to bring to Pro Line Fusion-equipped airplanes is a surface management system (SMS). Collins envisions linking SMS with ATC and ADS-B inputs to provide an overview of the taxi environment, including datalink taxi instructions shown on a surface map display and the location of all other aircraft and ADS-B-equipped vehicles. Active runways will be highlighted on the surface map, with aural warnings to alert pilots when a runway is too short.

Pro Line Fusion will also expand on technology originally brought to Pro Line 21 as part of the integrated flight information system (IFIS). The IFIS servers in Pro Line Fusion will be Wi-Fi-capable for easy transfer of encrypted data on and off the airplane (an example of the information-enabled pillar). IFIS will also support enhanced maps and graphical weather overlays on the PFDs and MFDs. The displays will measure 15 inches diagonally, providing “wall-to-wall glass in the cockpit,” Gilkison said. Windows within the displays will be configurable, allowing the pilots to put information in the precise spots they want it to appear.

All of these additional features and capabilities will require more powerful computer processors and higher-bandwidth databuses. The idea is to create a computer network in the cockpit instead of using point-to-point data transfer as is the case with Pro Line 21, Gilkison said. Pro Line Fusion will also incorporate dual FMSs that eliminate many of the menu pages that exist in current flight management system designs. In fact, Gilkison said, the FMS incorporated in Pro Line Fusion will reduce the total number of menu pages to 12 from 84.

“A lot of that information is accessible only through rote memorization,” he said. “When it gets stressful in the cockpit and all of a sudden you have to go six layers deep into the FMS, it can get kind of confusing.”

Pro Line Fusion seeks to eliminate the need to remember how to perform various FMS functions by incorporating all of the information onto the displays with access by a cursor controller. “All the pages that are accessible to you are based on the phase of flight,” Gilkison added, “so you have to deal with only a certain number of functions and they appear right in front of you on the MFD.”