Pro Line Fusion under way, Collins studies next technology

 - December 1, 2008, 6:26 AM

The launch of the super-midsize Gulfstream G250 at October’s NBAA Convention added yet another program to the growing list of contract wins for the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics system. Four OEMs have selected the Fusion cockpit to fly aboard seven business jet models spanning the Bombardier Global 5000 and Global Express XRS, Cessna Citation Columbus, Learjet 85, Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 and, now, the G250. Next year will be an important one for Rockwell Collins as developers begin the serious work of shepherding each of these cockpits through the certification process, along with other versions of Pro Line Fusion destined for the Bombardier C Series and Mitsubishi MRJ regional jets.

Given that manufacturers are being offered wide latitude in customizing their avionics suites, certification delays seem possible. But Collins officials insist development schedules are realistic, even in the face of a deluge of new business. “We are not anticipating anything that would prevent us” from certifying Pro Line Fusion on the schedules outlined by customer OEMs, said Tim Rayl, senior director for business and commercial systems at Rockwell Collins.

While the G250 is the latest Pro Line Fusion program disclosed by Rockwell Collins, Rayl noted that it was actually the first program win for the Pro Line Fusion system, selected more than a year ago by Gulfstream but publicly announced only two months ago. The version of Fusion for this airplane is being branded as the PlaneView 250 cockpit, in keeping with the nomenclature of the avionics systems flying aboard Gulfstream large-cabin business jets. Rayl noted that PlaneView 250 will have a “look and feel” similar to those of the PlaneView avionics in the larger airplanes, despite the fact that those systems are based on Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics system.

The basic PlaneView 250 avionics system features three high-resolution 15.1-inch-diagonal LCD flight displays (the same as those selected for the other Pro Line Fusion cockpits) split into multiple windows that pilots interact with using a sidewall-mounted cursor-control device. Borrowing from the avionics in the new Gulfstream G650, two standby multi-function controllers (SMCs) installed in the glareshield will incorporate the G250’s standby instruments, display control and remote information display on a 5.3-inch LCD screen.

Dual FMS with WAAS LPV approach capability and graphical flight planning interface are standard in the G250, as is Collins’s MultiScan weather radar, a fully automatic radar that detects, analyzes and displays weather hazards from the nose of the aircraft to 300 nm ahead. Dual integrated flight information systems (IFIS) provide electronic charts and enhanced maps on the main displays, while a system for controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) and graphical weather retrieval will also be standard, as will a traffic surveillance system with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) capability.

Optional equipment offered in the Plane- View G250 cockpit will include the Rockwell Collins HGS-6250 head-up guidance system, an airport surface management system, a second set of electronic charts, an “intercontinental package” consisting of a third FMS, second HF communications system, third navigation radio, second radio altimeter and second datalink system, as well as a lightning detection system and second traffic surveillance system.

Test rigs at Rockwell Collins’s headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have been erected to accommodate each of the versions of Pro Line Fusion about to enter the certification pipeline. Some flight testing has been conducted by Bombardier in Wichita, but by and large the avionics are in the early stages of development. Collins has been using a rapid prototyping simulator hooked to a bank of PCs to allow designers to make changes quickly based on customer and pilot feedback. “Sometimes something sounds like it might be a good idea but then turns out not to be once pilots try it in the simulator,” Rayl said. “We can make changes quickly and then show them to pilots to determine what they like and what they don’t.”

Synthetic Vision

A major focus for developers of Pro Line Fusion centers on the avionics’ synthetic-vision system (SVS). Collins flew a number of test flights with NASA in 2005 and has been honing its terrain database ever since to provide as true to life a presentation of the earth’s surface as is possible. The highest resolution data is reserved for depicting the areas around airports, with lower-fidelity data used to fill in the rest of the world. Much of the data used in the Collins SVS database came from the Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), which gathered elevation data globally to generate the most complete, high-resolution digital topographic database of earth ever created.

SRTM consisted of a specially modified radar system that flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour during an 11-day mission in February 2000. Collins has improved the database using older available data, some of it from Jeppesen, and continues to collect information from GPS-based surveys of mountains. Obstacles included in the database will be updated on the normal navigation update cycle, while improved terrain information will be included in database uploads occurring at least once a year.

During an SVS demonstration behind the controls of the advanced flight deck simulator, Rockwell Collins principal systems engineer Kirschen Seah dialed in a 30-knot wind to show how the synthetic presentation handles conditions that might be typical for a real-world flight. On the primary flight display the SVS view showed mountains, bodies of water and a grid pattern on land that provided a good sense of movement above the terrain.

While all of the various Fusion cockpits will use the 15.1-inch displays with LED backlighting, their configurations will vary from model to model, as will the information they portray. For example, Bombardier’s Global Vision cockpit based on Pro Line Fusion will look quite different from the avionics in other OEMs’ airplanes. But there are a number of technologies that could be applied across all the platforms as pilots and engineers work to establish which concepts make the most sense.

For example, airports entered into the FMS in the flight deck sim appeared with a translucent dome over them that is intended to serve as a clue to pilots flying in a high workload environment. Nearer the airport, runways appear, complete with runway numbers and centerlines. Flight path marker and flight director cues mimic those included on the HUD.

Collins does not yet offer highway-in-the-sky (Hits) guidance indicators, which are still being investigated, Seah said. While Hits guidance boxes are useful when the airplane is within their boundaries, Collins engineers believe they can confuse pilots when flying outside of them. Remedies for this potential shortcoming are being studied.

Reimagining Vision Systems

Rockwell Collins also houses an advanced technology center demonstration lab at its Iowa headquarters. Here, against the backdrop of a sophisticated collimated simulator visual system, some of the best and brightest minds at Rockwell Collins dream up ideas for future flight deck systems–such as an SVS presentation fused with enhanced-vision camera images (the fusion in Pro Line Fusion) and SVS views on the head-up guidance system. “Eventually we want to change the term to just ‘vision systems’ to include all sorts of technology, not only SVS and infrared EVS,” said Tim Etherington, principal engineering manager within Rockwell Collins’s advanced technology center.

The goal is to extend operational credit to operators flying instrument approaches with head-down SVS flight displays, something currently reserved only for users of HUD-based EVS. It’s hard to say whether the FAA or European authorities will allow reduced landing minimums using a head-down flight display, Etherington said. “There are strong arguments for using HUD for anything below 200 feet,” he said. “The FAA wants the pilots’ eyes looking outside the cockpit. The counter argument is that pilots today can fly a Category II approach to 100 feet without a HUD, so why not let them do the same thing with a fused SVS and EVS flight display?”

Future display systems might combine information from several sensors, including millimeter wave radar or possibly even the existing weather radar.

Pro Line Fusion’s RTA-4100 multiscan weather radar series is due for certification next summer, after which it will be included as a standard part of the avionics system and offered in Pro Line 21-equipped airplanes. Multiscan radars differ from traditional radar by making continuous sweeps of the sky and storing the information in their memory.

Automatic gain adjustments and removal of ground clutter by the system’s computer provide pilots with a 3-D view of weather hazards with no need for them continually to fine-tune the system. Multiscan radars paint weather across the entire sky ahead of the airplane from the ground to the flight levels and out to a claimed distance of 320 nm. Because the radar can compare and remove ground clutter, developers think it also might be useful one day in validating data from the SVS in real time.

Preliminary units have been shipped to Bombardier, Gulfstream, Cessna and Embraer for early flight tests. The small size and light weight of the radar means it can be installed in airplanes as small as the Cessna Citation CJ4, according to Rockwell Collins. Production units will begin shipping to customers a little less than a year from now.