Toasts all around for Primus Epic

 - August 11, 2008, 9:12 AM

Calling it one of the most complex design efforts ever undertaken in the field of avionics, Honeywell engineering executives were popping champagne corks last month in celebration of the freshly issued FAA papers certifying the Primus Epic integrated avionics system.

Honeywell’s John Todd, director of Gulfstream programs, probably summed it up best when he said the Primus Epic PlaneView cockpit in the Gulfstream G550, certified on August 14, heralds a new era for aviators of high-performance business jets, one in which electronic displays and cursor-control devices replace traditional dials, knobs and switches. After more than seven years of engineering work, millions of dollars of research-and-development funding and no doubt equal amounts of sweat and tears, Primus Epic has emerged at the pinnacle of the avionics world, rarefied air that leaves Honeywell’s competitors working double time to catch up.

But the G550 wasn’t supposed to be the first airplane certified to fly with Primus Epic. Software integration issues that delayed certification of the avionics in the EASy-equipped Dassault Falcon 900EX and Embraer 170, and a last-minute requirement to change the cockpit layout in the Bell/Agusta AB139 helicopter, meant that Gulfstream was able to ride in as the dark horse in a close race, snatching the coveted bragging rights as the first Primus Epic aircraft to gain full type certification.

Honeywell made a bold prediction in November 1996 when the avionics manufacturer took the wraps off Primus Epic at the NBAA Convention in Orlando, Fla. “You will never look at the cockpit the same way again” was the marketing tag line the avionics maker chose. With its bright, colorful liquid-crystal displays and mouse-like cursor controls, the statement seemed to ring true from the moment it was made. Primus Epic was different, in some ways even radical. And since then Primus Epic has evolved beyond what its developers promised, the result of constant refinements and input from pilots that have improved the look and feel of the avionics. This in spite of the fact that some far-reaching technologies such as voice recognition never made it into the final design.

Still, said Todd, “Primus Epic’s architecture offers far more integration, more functions and a more intuitive human-machine interface than any previous system, resulting in greatly improved situational awareness and safety.”

Gulfstream’s PlaneView cockpit and Dassault’s EASy avionics for the 900EX take Primus Epic to the next evolutionary level, adding large, 10- by 13-inch LCDs, improved cursor-control devices and intuitive menus and synoptic pages that reduce pilot workload and help prevent errors. Behind the scenes, Honeywell’s modular avionics cabinets house the central nervous system of Epic.

The avionics will also fly aboard the Cessna Citation Sovereign and Raytheon Hawker Horizon–both in the latter stages of flight testing and on target for certification within the next several months–as well as various additional Gulfstream, Dassault and Embraer models. In 1996 Honeywell actually anticipated Primus Epic would be certified in 2000 aboard the then just-announced Hawker Horizon. Delays with that program slowed Primus Epic development, as did the sudden upswing in business aviation buying activity, which left avionics makers scrambling to hire engineers.

Honeywell executives admit the company fell behind for these and a variety of
other reasons, but they also rightly point to the certification of Primus Epic in the G550 as a significant milestone for the company and the industry. The first G550 customer, a large international corporation, will take delivery of its PlaneView-equipped airplane later this month.