Meggitt Magic autopilot keeps turboprops flying

 - May 19, 2008, 6:38 AM

Seeking to establish a firmer foothold in the avionics retrofit market, Meggitt last month introduced a new digital flight control system for older turboprops. Developed as part of a broader collaborative effort with subsidiary S-TEC in Mineral Wells, Texas, the new Magic 2100 DFCS is intended for operators of Twin Commanders, King Airs and Cessna Conquests equipped with aging autopilots no longer supported by OEMs.

The Magic 2100 marks the introduction of the first all-new autopilot since Meggitt’s May 2000 acquisition of S-TEC. The announcement also coincided with news that Meggitt will move its core avionics engineering group to Mineral Wells from Manchester, N.H. Once the move is complete, responsibility for Meggitt’s general aviation business will be transferred to S-TEC.

About 150 of Meggitt’s 225 employees in Manchester are expected to relocate to Mineral Wells. S-TEC operates a designated alteration station (DAS) at Mineral Wells Airport that allows the company to develop STCs for its products quickly and at about a tenth of what the job would cost at an independent avionics shop.

Dain Miller, S-TEC president, said the decision to consolidate the GA avionics business and move it to Texas came from top brass at Meggitt headquarters in the UK. He added that the move would better allow Meggitt and S-TEC engineers to collaborate on new avionics and flight controls, as well as save the company money.

“The transition is happening very quickly,” said Miller. “The problem with the three separate business units [in Manchester, Mineral Wells and the UK] was that they didn’t always work well together. Mineral Wells is a less costly place to live, but it’s near enough to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex that we can attract engineering talent.”

That talent will be called on to develop a line of flight control systems for turboprops built roughly between 1965 and 1985. Miller said S-TEC is even designing an RVSM-capable autopilot for older King Air 200s and Conquests, which operate up to FL 350, well above the FAA’s proposed domestic RVSM floor of FL 290. RVSM in the U.S. is scheduled to begin in December 2004.

The Magic 2100 DFCS is a three-axis, fully digital attitude-based flight control system that S-TEC claims will bring jet functionality to the twin-turboprop market. The $65,900 package comes complete with the autopilot; four servos controlling pitch, roll, yaw and trim; an Arinc 429-compatible air-data/attitude heading reference system (ADAHRS); and all harnesses and switches. In addition,
S-TEC ships the system with the complete data package for the aircraft STC.

The system incorporates cockpit voice annunciation, altitude pre-selector, IAS hold function and GPS roll steering, as well as flight director and yaw damper as a standard part of the package. The ADAHRS included with the new flight control system is the same hardware developed by Meggitt in the UK and flying aboard the Piper Meridian as part of the Magic EFIS.

Six to nine months from now S-TEC will introduce the Magic 2500 DFCS, said Miller. At a price of $20,000 to $25,000 more than the Magic 2100, the system will feature a Magic 2100-like control panel, a remote color annunciator that sits above the EFIS, remote boxes in the avionics bay and half-bank and soft-ride features found in jet flight control systems.

Looking forward, Miller said Meggitt and S-TEC will be satisfied with a niche role in the retrofit avionics market, but he added that the company is vying for new aircraft programs as well. Meggitt bought S-TEC to give it a full avionics suite for new aircraft and retrofit avionics programs. In addition to the Meridian program, STC installations in five Twin Commanders recently got under way, and Piper is seeking additional approvals to offer the package in the Mirage and Seneca.

Miller said Meggitt and S-TEC are also gauging interest among other avionics makers that may benefit from incorporating the Magic DFCS with forthcoming EFIS packages. He said Avidyne and Garmin are companies that could profit from partnering with a third-party autopilot. Although Garmin is understood to be developing an autopilot of its own for its in-development avionics suite, Miller said S-TEC’s flight control system could save Garmin money and help it avoid certification headaches.

Miller and S-TEC marketing director Ken Paul at press time said they would be discussing such possibilities with Avidyne, Garmin and others at the Aircraft Electronics Association Convention in Palm Springs, Calif., held late last month.

It is still unclear how Meggitt’s UK operation, which builds solid-state sensors and is heavily involved in the unmanned aerial vehicle market, might be incorporated with the new Mineral Wells operation. The company is also exploring a number of acquisitions, but Miller did not elaborate on Meggitt’s plans.

In addition to shifting responsibility for the Magic products to Mineral Wells, Meggitt announced a number of personnel changes. The engine component business will remain in Manchester for the time being under the direction of Abdul Sharif, general manager, and Kris Kasper has been named manager of site operations in New Hampshire and will oversee the transition of the avionics business to Texas.


If I identified in Controller the Twin Commander that I am considering, could you give me a recommendation of your upgrades?

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