L-3's SmartDeck awaiting launch customer green light

 - July 8, 2008, 8:31 AM

The recent FAA approval of L-3 Avionics Systems’ SmartDeck integrated avionics system clears a path for integration of the cockpit into the production line of the first of two OEM customers the Grand Rapids, Mich. company has secured.

L-3 Avionics officials at press time said details about the deals will emerge “very soon,” most likely before this month’s EAA AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wis. The TSO approval for SmartDeck marks the culmination of a 10-year development effort going all the way back to when the business was owned by Goodrich. L-3 Communications took over the avionics unit in 2003, accelerating the development of the SmartDeck cockpit and refocusing the endeavor on simplifying the pilot’s job wherever possible.

The initial STC for SmartDeck was performed in a Cirrus SR22-G2. Cirrus has also picked L-3 as the avionics development partner for the single-engine jet it is developing. Cirrus in May announced a version of Garmin’s G1000 avionics system called Cirrus Perspective will be offered in the SR22 as an alternative to the airplane’s standard Avidyne Entegra suite. Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier said Avidyne, Garmin and L-3 are in the running to supply the cockpit for the Cirrus jet, adding that a production decision won’t be announced for at least a year.

SmartDeck incorporates primary and multifunction flight displays with a separate screen dedicated to flight plan and communication management. The system integrates several of L-3’s situational awareness technologies providing detailed data on navigation, traffic avoidance, terrain avoidance, communication, flight controls, engine parameters and enhanced vision.

SmartDeck’s center console unit (CCU) is used to enter flight plan data and select radio frequencies and transponder codes. A flight data control panel located between the PFD and MFD has the two concentric knobs and other buttons that control information on the displays. There is also an audio control panel and mode selector panel for the autopilot located in the center. Among the notable differences between this avionics system and others that have come before it is the lower overall number of buttons and knobs.

“We wanted to keep the pilot interface as simple and uncluttered as possible,” said Larry Riddle, vice president of business development for L-3 Avionics. Garmin’s G1000 cockpit has a dedicated heading knob as well as more than a dozen other individual knobs and twice that many buttons. With SmartDeck, designers have cut the number of knobs that are included on the center control panel to just two, one for controlling the PFD and one for the MFD.

Behind the scenes, SmartDeck consists of two air-data attitude heading reference systems (ADAHRS), two data concentrators, two magnetometers, two WAAS GPS receivers, a flight display controller, two software-defined navcom radios, a mode-C transponder and S-Tec IntelliFlight 1950C digital autopilot. The system can interface with L-3’s SkyWatch traffic advisory system, Landmark terrain awareness and warning system, Stormscope lightning-detection system, Iris enhanced-vision camera and other sensors, including graphical datalink weather through WSI and Sirius Satellite Radio. L-3 produces most SmartDeck components, with the exception of the autopilot, transponder (Becker) and audio panel (PS Engineering).

Additional advanced technologies such as synthetic-vision and highway-in-the-sky guidance cues will be added to SmartDeck through software updates, Riddle said, adding that flight testing of SVS has already started. “Synthetic-vision for SmartDeck is absolutely coming, and you’ll definitely see it within the next 12 months, and hopefully by the end of the year,” he said. Garmin recently introduced the technology in the G1000 system, and Honeywell, Universal Avionics and Chelton Flight Systems have also certified SVS.