CMC accelerates pace of enhanced vision testing

 - May 29, 2008, 9:27 AM

With the ink still fresh on the paperwork certifying the installation of the $500,000 enhanced vision system (EVS) from Gulfstream and Kollsman, rival avionics manufacturers are accelerating their development programs to bring competing products to market quickly.

Canada’s CMC Electronics has jumped out into the lead and appears poised to become just the second maker to build and certify an EVS for business aviation. However, unlike the package designed for Gulfstream jets–which can be used only with the Honeywell 2020 head-up display–CMC is developing a system that it said could be certified for use with any raster-capable HUD, a capability that has raised the interest of several airframe OEMs.

A leading candidate for CMC’s EVS is the Bombardier Global Express, the chief rival to Gulfstream’s GV in the market for ultra-long-range business jets. Late last year the FAA and Transport Canada certified the Global Express $450,000 Head-up Flight Display System (HFDS) built by France’s Thales Avionics. The approvals bring a well designed HUD system to the airplane’s cockpit (of its long list of attributes, the HFDS has the widest field of view of any bizav HUD on the market) but the fact remains that the GV and GV-SP can now be equipped with EVS and the Global Express cannot, which does not sit well with Bombardier executives.

Luc Fouquette, Global Express program manager, told AIN that Bombardier is now ready to speed development of an EVS package for the airplane. Thales plans to certify a dual-band infrared EVS, the company announced at last month’s NBAA show. It has no customer airframe as of yet, but an obvious target is the Global Express. It will take at least a couple of years for Thales to test its EVS and bring it into production. CMC, on the other hand, has already flown its EVS extensively in a Cessna 402 testbed and said it is confident the system’s hardware and software will be certified by the end of this year.

Last summer CMC successfully completed two sets of developmental flight trials consisting of more than 70 approaches in fog, clouds and rain. Rick Beasley, CMC director of business development, said for production of the system to go ahead the company first needed to find an airframe customer. An agreement, he said, has been struck, but at press time last month he was unable to disclose the identity of the launch customer. Certification flight trials, said Beasley, will start late this summer in the OEM airplane.

Advanced Design

The major component of EVS is its tiny infrared sensor, a cryogenically cooled camera that marries a view of the runway and surrounding terrain to a head-up display (HUD). Enhanced vision holds the promise of vastly improving situational awareness, which safety experts believe should translate to a reduction in approach and landing accidents.

Beasley said he applauds the pioneering work of Gulfstream and Kollsman, but asserted that his company’s IR camera is more advanced than the Kollsman design.

“We have an extremely high-performance sensor,” said Beasley. “People who’ve seen it are impressed, and the OEMs we’ve shown it to are very excited. This, coupled with the fact that we already build about 1,500 infrared sensors a year for other applications, has convinced people that we have a superior sensor product.”

CMC Electronics is the former Canadian Marconi, a company with decades of avionics experience and the technology and engineering infrastructure needed to bring such a product to the marketplace. CMC engineers in Ottawa and Cincinnati were responsible for developing the high-performance IR sensor, which when installed in an airplane’s radome can detect not only airport and runway lights but also the slight thermal gradients of terrain, which appear distinctly on the HUD in shades of dark green.

CMC plans to offer two versions of its EVS, one for flight guidance and one for taxi-only guidance. The first version, at a price of between $400,000 and $500,000 (for retrofit applications, not including the cost of installation), will allow properly trained crews to make Cat II landings even at Type 1 airports, meaning a descent below 200 ft height above terrain (HAT) to just 100 ft HAT.

Currently there are about 1,270 Type 1 airports in the U.S., all of which would instantly be turned into Type 2 facilities for properly trained crews of EVS-equipped airplanes. This added utility gain is how many flight departments will justify the cost of the system. Eventually, EVS designers believe such equipment will allow Cat III (50 ft HAT) landings at Type 1 fields.

Total installed weight for the CMC system is expected to be less than 22 lb, including the EVS camera, image processor, wiring harness, brackets, connectors and needed mods to the radome. One such modification is the addition of a small infrared-transparent window in the nose, through which the camera looks.

In Gulfstream’s case the FAA required the airframe maker to provide a heat source for the window, a hurdle CMC will also face.