EVS market tightening as competing players emerge

 - May 8, 2008, 6:29 AM

MaxVis Inc., a new company established in Portland, Ore., has thrown its hat into the enhanced vision system (EVS) ring, where competition is heating up. EVS units are add-ons to head-up displays (HUD) and use infrared sensors to “see” through cloud and fog to provide an almost photographic quality image on the HUD of the situation ahead, far beyond the pilot’s visual range.

One long-time industry observer has likened today’s burgeoning interest in HUD and EVS equipment to the early days of weather radar, where–from a few aircraft flying circular-sweep monochrome displays–the market grew. With the advent of color sector-sweep displays, it rapidly accelerated. “HUD and EVS are on the same track,” he said, “and by 2010 they will be standard on all airplanes, except smaller general aviation aircraft.”

MaxVis president Gregg Fawkes told AIN that the firm is currently conducting flight tests of five different infrared sensor units–or “engines”–and will then mate the best of them with new signal-processing techniques and special optics. “We intend to do EVS right,” he said.

MaxVis currently envisions two infrared packages, aimed initially at the corporate jet market. The first, targeted for certification late this year, will be designed for installation high in the leading edge of an aircraft’s vertical fin, with a forward viewing angle of 20 deg either side of the nose. Its primary purpose will be to provide airport surface situational awareness, and Fawkes said that “a very high level of interest” in the concept had been shown by corporate operators and others, including the FAA.

The STC process would be eased by the fact that the infrared package would be optimized to take advantage of the approved location for forward-looking video cameras, and that the unit would use power and other cables identical to those used in a video installation. Estimated list price would be “less than $100,000.”

The second infrared package is to be a nose-mounted, uncooled, dual-frequency unit with a ±15 deg forward view matching the standard HUD conformal-viewing angle. Uncooled means that the infrared sensor will not require the special cryogenics devices used in conventional systems, while dual-frequency describes the use of separate long- and shortwave “bands” in the infrared spectrum. The long-wave band provides optimum sensing of terrain features, while the shortwave band reduces the “blooming” effect produced by approach lights and other high-intensity light sources. Fawkes said the second package was expected to be certified next year. It would carry an installed price that will be “competitive,” he noted.

In Canada, CMC Electronics (formerly Canadian Marconi) has just completed the second set of flight trials of its EVS equipment. Rick Beasley, CMCE director of business development, told AIN that the trials, which incorporated an updated infrared sensor and other product refinements in a small, lightweight package, were “very successful.” He said the company would be showing those trials results at this month’s NBAA Convention.

Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream Aerospace expected in late August to have an FAA test team fly a two-week acceptance program aimed at certification of a HUD/EVS combination in a GV. That test airplane has been fitted with a BAE Systems HUD and a Kollsman EVS.

Gulfstream and Kollsman have been the industry pioneers in EVS development and corporate applications. Mike Mena, Gulfstream HUD/EVS project manager, told AIN that FAA certification, expected this fall, would mark the world’s first civil HUD/EVS approval.

Following receipt of approval, Gulfstream expects to begin customer GV EVS installations in the first quarter of next year. Mena expects that FAA certification of the EVS equipment in the GIV-SP will occur in the second quarter of next year, with the first customer installation following in the third quarter. The follow-on GIV-X is sure to have this equipment available as well, and EVS will be standard on the upcoming GV-SP.

A “basic” HUD is already an option on the GV and GIV-SP, but Gulfstream said 35 current owners have ordered the $500,000 EVS upgrade. Mena stated that this early level of customer support was “only the first step” in what he believed would become “a major evolution towards expanding flight-deck usage of developing technologies such as millimeter radar and similar advances.”