Cockpit Avionics 2009

 - July 28, 2009, 8:06 AM

The biggest names in the avionics business have spent the last year preparing for the introduction of major upgrades to their existing integrated cockpits or developing entirely new avionics systems, all designed around the noble goals of improving flight efficiency and safety while serving as stepping stones to the so-called NextGen operating environment.

Honeywell is close to certifying significant upgrades for a number of its Primus Epic-based cockpits while Rockwell Collins continues to hone its new Pro Line Fusion avionics system. These two cockpits will battle for supremacy in nearly all new large-cabin business jets, but they could face competition from a number of industry upstarts that have their sights set on this market. Canada’s CMC Electronics, for one, has launched an initiative to develop FronTier, an integrated avionics system for Part 25 business jets and regional airliners. Garmin, meanwhile, is about to make a significant move up market with the certification of the G1000-based Prodigy cockpit in the Embraer Phenom 300, its third business jet to roll out of the factory with a standard suite of Garmin equipment.

Nobody expects Honeywell or Rockwell Collins to give up much ground to the market newcomers right away, but on the retrofit side of the ledger both companies are ceding market share to Garmin, Universal Avionics, IS&S and Cobham, all of which have developed impressive-looking display replacement systems that sell for far less than a full upgrade to Honeywell’s Primus Epic or Collins’s Pro Line 21. With the economy’s troubles, operators are holding off on big-ticket retrofits, but replacements of older CRT screens and electromechanical instruments with the latest LCD display technology remain a reasonably popular option.

Primus Epic Makeover

In an effort clearly aimed at putting some space between itself and the competition, Honeywell is working toward certification of a variety of long-awaited NextGen avionics upgrades intended to expand the capabilities of large-cabin Gulfstream and Dassault business jets. The Phoenix avionics manufacturer said it recently completed simulator and flight testing that will add functionality for future air navigation system (Fans1/A); wide-area augmentation system localizer performance with vertical guidance (WAAS LPV); and required navigation performance special aircraft and aircrew authorization required (RNP SAAAR) operations in PlaneView-equipped Gulfstreams. Honeywell has also delivered “load software” for these capabilities to Dassault, along with the promised synthetic-vision upgrade for EASy-equipped Falcons announced at the NBAA Convention last fall.

Fans1/A, used on oceanic flight routes, enables text-based datalink communications between pilots and controllers. WAAS LPV is a GPS-based instrument approach that provides ILS-like landing minimums (as low as 200-foot decision height) without the need to erect costly ground stations. There are now more than 1,500 WAAS LPV approaches in the U.S., versus fewer than 1,000 ILS approaches. RNP SAAAR, also GPS based, is a special type of procedure that allows suitably equipped aircraft flown by appropriately trained crews to fly extremely precise (0.1-nm lateral accuracy) tracks, including curved approach courses. The FAA permits Honeywell to assist aircraft operators seeking RNP SAAAR approval through the company’s recently launched Go Direct Services.

Honeywell expects to receive the technical standard order for the enhanced functionality in the Gulfstream G350, G450, G500 and G550 soon. Additional functionality coming to the Gulfstream cockpits through the software updates includes electronic airport maps and synthetic-vision system enhancements, including the addition of range rings on the primary flight display.

Honeywell also plans to release its Version 6.1 FMS software for the GIV/IV-SP and GV, an upgrade that will enable the Fans1/A, RNP and WAAS LPV operations. As part of that upgrade, operators can opt to remove their CRT cockpit screens and replace them with DU-885 LCD flat-panel displays for support of XM graphical weather and electronic navigational charts. Avionics installation centers report customers have shown interest in such upgrades as a way to expand the capabilities of older business jets, but add that the slow economy is forcing some would-be buyers to hold off making such purchases.

The EASy Phase II cockpit for Dassault is scheduled to be certified late this year in the Falcon 900, 2000 and 7X, with the Fans1/A capability to follow early next year.
The update will bring to the cockpits of Falcons the same synthetic-vision capabilities that Gulfstream PlaneView operators have enjoyed. Garmin offers synthetic vision in the G1000 cockpit and Universal Avionics offers it as part of its retrofit cockpit upgrade. Chelton Flight Systems (now part of Cobham) was the first to certify SVS, but its technology is now several advances behind the latest SVS concepts.

Synthetic vision creates and presents on the primary flight displays a virtual, 3-D view of the world, including hills, mountains, runways and bodies of water.
Honeywell was the first avionics maker to gain certification for the product–called synthetic vision-primary flight display–in a production Part 25 business jet when Gulfstream brought the technology to its large-cabin aircraft family a couple years ago. Garmin has taken the technology even further by incorporating highway-in-the-sky guidance symbology and traffic targets on the flight displays.
Rockwell Collins, meanwhile, plans to fuse the computer-generated SVS image with infrared enhanced-vision views as part of the Pro Line Fusion cockpit for even greater situational awareness benefits.

Pro Line Fusion Emerges

The slowing market for business jets and recent loss of a major customer will have little effect on the flight test schedule or certification of the Fusion system, according to Rockwell Collins. Cessna’s decision to cancel the super-midsize Citation Columbus program (see story on page 4) dealt only a minor setback to Collins by eliminating what looked to be a promising platform for the next-generation Fusion cockpit, which was announced almost two years ago as a major enhancement of the Collins Pro Line 21 avionics system.

Development of other Pro Line Fusion-equipped business jets and regional airliners is proceeding on pace as OEMs bet the economy will turn around well before their airplanes enter production. Pro Line Fusion has been selected for the Bombardier Global Express XRS, Global 5000 and Learjet 85; Embraer Legacy 450 and 500; and Gulfstream G250, as well as the Bombardier C Series and Mitsubishi MRJ regional jets.

“We think our customers will be coming to market at a great time,” said Greg Irmen, vice president and general manager of business and regional systems at Rockwell Collins. “Once this current economic downturn is behind us, buying activity will resume and put the OEMs that have selected Pro Line Fusion in a very good position.”

The first Pro Line Fusion-equipped airplane to cross the certification finish line, in 2011, is predicted to be the super-midsize G250. Workers have joined the test airplane’s forward, center and aft fuselage sections as Gulfstream prepares the first G250 for its maiden flight, scheduled for later this year. The milestone will mark the start of Pro Line Fusion trials in an all-new airplane. Rockwell Collins has been flying Pro Line Fusion in its own Challenger 601 test airplane for several months.

Bombardier recently started flight trials of its Global Vision cockpit, based on the Fusion system, for the Global Express XRS and Global 5000. Both airplanes were originally certified with Honeywell Primus 2000XP avionics systems based on older CRT display technology. Switching to the Pro Line Fusion-based cockpit, also targeted for 2011, will bring large LCD displays to the Global family and finally give Bombardier a potent answer to the Honeywell-based Dassault EASy and Gulfstream PlaneView cockpits. Rockwell Collins and Bombardier are also working on a head-up guidance system for the Global Express that would integrate synthetic-vision symbology on the HUD combiner glass.

The certification timeline for Bombardier’s Learjet 85 is somewhat less certain after the collapse of Germany’s Grob, which was tapped to help design and build the prototype’s composite airframe. Bombardier has started fresh on the design and publicly remains committed to delivering the first airplanes in 2012.

Embraer, meanwhile, plans to start deliveries of the Legacy 500 in the second half of 2012 and the Legacy 450 in the second half of 2013. The customer timelines give Rockwell Collins a nicely staggered lineup of programs that should help to ensure the company doesn’t become overwhelmed by overlapping certification work. The Citation Columbus was scheduled to enter production in 2012 before Cessna pulled the plug on the program.

Featuring 15-inch-diagonal flat-panel displays, the Pro Line Fusion avionics system will make heavy use of graphical flight planning tools and cursor-control devices. The cockpit will also include the Rockwell Collins MultiScan weather radar and incorporate enhanced- and synthetic-vision system technology.

Navigating a New FronTier

CMC Electronics hopes to challenge the dominance of Honeywell and Rockwell Collins in the Part 25 business jet market segment by developing a serious competitor to the Primus Epic and Pro Line avionics suites. The Canadian avionics maker expects the first applications of its FronTier range of integrated cockpit systems to enter service before the end of 2013. Others have tried and failed in their quest to penetrate the Part 25 business jet market, but CMC Electronics–now a part of Esterline–has the engineering know-how and capital investment to vie for a slice of the OEM business.

In January CMC Electronics announced a C$149.4 million ($120 million) investment in research and development for FronTier over the next five years. This includes a C$52.3 million ($42 million) contribution from the Canadian government’s Innovation & Technology Office. CMC has identified the key goals of the new FronTier technology as reducing the cost of ownership and giving OEMs greater flexibility and control over the cockpit systems, as well as improving safety, reducing the environmental impact of aircraft and increasing airspace capacity.

According to Gérald Charland, CMC’s vice president for strategy and business development, CMC’s head-up displays and advances in navigation systems will be the cornerstones of FronTier. “Situational awareness will be a key feature,” he said. “We want pilots flying head up all the time and, from 2013, head-up displays will be standard equipment.”

CMC intends to build FronTier on its existing product portfolio, which includes GPS-based navigation systems, flight management systems, EVS and electronic flight bags. Charland said the company has significant systems integration experience from its involvement in military programs, such as the full EFIS it provides for Hawker Beechcraft’s T-6B military trainer.

“We are well positioned in situational awareness, and not many companies can offer both EVS and EFBs,” he added. CMC is working on a new sensor for its EVS, and Rockwell Collins has selected the company’s 10-inch EFB display.

One of the main goals of the FronTier R&D effort will be to produce an Arinc 653-compliant core computer. CMC already has experience in this field for smaller Part 23-certified aircraft.

CMC started discussions with OEMs about its FronTier plans in 2007. Charland said business aviation is a “natural first target” for FronTier products.

Garmin’s Growing Base

Another avionics maker that is increasingly targeting business aviation is Garmin, the Olathe, Kan. consumer electronics force formed by two former Bendix/King engineers in the early 1990s. Garmin’s plans from the outset revolved around the goal of creating an integrated avionics system for light general aviation airplanes. The G1000 system that was created from that effort today is flying in thousands of GA airplanes, but it is the business jets and turboprops in which G1000 has landed that worry Honeywell and Collins.

G1000 made its debut in the Cessna Citation Mustang, a Part 23-certified compact very light jet, and has since been added to the standard equipment list in the Embraer Phenom 100 and 300 and as a retrofit choice in King Airs and other cabin-class twins. The imminent certification of the G1000 Prodigy cockpit in the Phenom 300 will mark an important milestone for Garmin by giving the avionics a foothold in a Part 25 small cabin light business jet capable of flying more than 1,800 nm at FL450 and 450 ktas. There is no reason to believe Garmin couldn’t develop a follow-on system using level-A software that would be capable of penetrating the Part 25 business jet market. For now, Garmin will say only that it is “exploring” all markets in aviation.

For the time being, the G1000 system remains as one of the retrofit cockpit options that appears to be unaffected by the economic slowdown. The recently certified G1000 upgrade for the King Air 200 is selling well and, according to installers, is a hot option among buyers of used King Airs.

“It’s definitely a good upgrade for the airplane considering it’s a complete replacement for all of the avionics,” said Mark Wilken, director of avionics sales and product development for Elliott Aviation. “All the avionics wiring comes out and the new equipment going in provides much more capability and less weight.” Price for the G1000 retrofit in the King Air 200 including installation is around $300,000.

Competitors Make Inroads

Honeywell Bendix/King has certified the Primus Apex cockpit in the Pilatus PC-12NG and the early word from pilots has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Pilatus. The Apex system’s 10.4-inch displays (two PFDs and two MFDs) integrate flight information, engine monitoring, aircraft configuration, pressurization and environmental controls. Flight and weather data, charts, aircraft system information and trip-planning functions are also incorporated into the system. Observers expect Apex to be a capable competitor to G1000 for years to come.

Universal Avionics, meanwhile, says it has experienced a slowdown in buying activity for its retrofit avionics systems due to the economy’s woes, but activity on the FMS side has taken up the slack in demand as operators seek to upgrade to WAAS LPV capability. Universal was the first FMS maker to certify WAAS LPV and so far has performed the vast majority of WAAS upgrades in business jets.

The list of WAAS FMS STCs Universal and its dealers have obtained so far is impressive. It includes upgrades for the Falcon 20 and 50, Citation 550/650, Learjet 45 and 60, Challenger 600/601, Astra, Hawker 700 and 800, King Air series and others. On the cockpit retrofit side of its business, Universal has gained installation approvals for its EFI-890R system in a wide range of airplanes, including the King Air 300, Learjet 60, Pilatus PC-12, Challenger 600/601, Astra, Hawker 700A, Gulfstream II/IIB/III, Learjet 25, Falcon 20 and others.

Innovative Solutions & Support is preparing to submit the FAA paperwork necessary to secure a supplemental type certificate allowing installations of the Exton, Pa. firm’s AdViz Cessna Citation retrofit avionics system. A Citation V completed its first test flight with the IS&S cockpit in April, following two years of development. STC approval is expected this month.

Cessna chose IS&S as the provider for its long-anticipated, glass-cockpit retrofit program. Installations of the flat-panel displays will be available through all authorized Citation service centers. The program replaces aging flight instruments with the AdViz display system, resulting in reduced weight, better reliability and high-tech additions such as XM Weather, navigation charts, remote radio tuning and infrared enhanced vision.

The AdViz system initially will be available for purchase through the nine Cessna-owned Citation Service Centers, and will later be distributed through the Cessna authorized network of 34 shops. Eventually it will be certified for the Cessna Citation 500/501, 550/551, S550, 560 and 650. The cockpit includes either two or three displays, each measuring six by eight inches. Price for the upgrade is targeted to be around $300,000, including installation.

The first successful flight of the retrofitted Citation V was made in April, with Cessna test pilot Rick Trissell at the controls. “The AdViz glass cockpit exceeded my expectations,” Trissell said at the time. “The crisp symbology and clarity of the displays, along with additional navigation aids, will enhance situational awareness in flight.”

The market for cockpit retrofits has cooled as the economy has slowed, but there continues to be pent-up demand from Citation operators looking to add the latest technology to their cockpits. “The interest in a glass cockpit at this price for the straight-wing Citations remains high,” said IS&S president Roman Ptakowski. He added that his company has been holding discussions with other installation centers about bringing a version of IS&S’s Vantage cockpit to older Hawkers, Falcons and Challengers. Most cockpit retrofit choices for Part 25 business jets cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the target price of the AdViz system.

The Cessna Citation retrofit cockpit certification process comes at a good time for IS&S, which is still feeling the sting of last year’s Eclipse Aviation liquidation.
Eclipse tapped IS&S to supply displays for the Eclipse 500 after removing avionics integrator Avidyne from the project. Now IS&S finds itself enmeshed in a cockpit program that has been orphaned because of a bad economy and decisions by former Eclipse managers.

None the 259 Eclipse 500 twinjets delivered is fully functional. Some early airplanes still need aerodynamic and engine upgrades, and many also are waiting for the change from the original Avidyne avionics to the latest IS&S glass panels. And none has received the final avionics upgrade–dual Garmin 400W navigators providing GPS capability.

Eclipse 500s can still be flown, as long as they are airworthy. But Eclipse 500s that have been modified with the IS&S instrument panel are stuck without available navigation databases, which were distributed by Eclipse. Since updates are not available either, approach capability is limited. IS&S and Avidyne are waiting for the dust to settle from the Eclipse implosion before deciding how best to assist aircraft owners.

Avidyne’s Answer to G1000

Avidyne is once again garnering considerable attention with the certification of Entegra Release 9, a follow-on glass cockpit featuring high-resolution displays and the company’s next-generation FMS900w flight management system. The new cockpit is available initially as an upgrade for Cirrus owners, with retrofit and OEM programs for other airplanes to follow.

The market introduction of Entegra Release 9 has given Avidyne a potent competitor to the Garmin G1000 avionics system, but unfortunately the market introduction comes at a time of slowing aircraft sales. Avidyne needs buying activity to pick up and Entegra Release 9 to be experienced by more pilots to give the avionics the chance to gain some much-needed word-of-mouth exposure. Pilots who’ve flown with it so far, however, say they love the new Avidyne system.

The latest version of Entegra features large-format, LED-backlit displays, touted as the first to be completely interchangeable for use as primary or multifunction displays. “Since each integrated flight display is fully capable of performing the functions of the other, no unfamiliar or limited reversionary modes are required,” said Avidyne president Dan Schwinn.

An integrated, digital WAAS navcom/surveillance suite is managed within the FMS900w–a clean-sheet design that Schwinn said re-imagines what the flight management system can be–while dual-redundant databus interconnection automatically synchronizes data among displays, the FMS keypad and a variety of safety sensors. Airplanes in the category of the single-engine Cirrus SR22 represent the low end for the FMS900w, Schwinn said. “It’s really designed for single-pilot IFR in higher-end Part 23 airplanes, including turboprops and jets,” he said, adding that Part 25 airplanes approved for single-pilot exemptions could also be candidates for the cockpit.

SmartDeck’s Future Uncertain

L-3 Avionics Systems in Grand Rapids, Mich., has been sidetracked by a lawsuit against lightplane maker Cirrus related to its developmental SmartDeck avionics system, but the company’s new president, Jay LaFoy, said the cockpit is still very much alive and could yet find a home in a production airplane. Featuring intuitive controls and large LCD displays, SmartDeck is intended to compete with Garmin’s G1000, Avidyne’s Entegra and Bendix/King’s Apex systems.

L-3 Avionics is seeking $21.7 million in a lawsuit against Cirrus over the cancellation of a bulk order for SmartDeck cockpit systems and money allegedly owed for Stormscope and other stand-alone products. In the complaint, L-3 alleges Cirrus signed a contract to purchase 350 SmartDeck systems to serve as the “sole-supplier” cockpit for the Cirrus SR22-G3, but later reneged on the deal by partnering with Garmin for an SR22 cockpit called Perspective.

L-3 says Cirrus then agreed to go ahead with the purchase of 75 SmartDeck systems, but last December asked that L-3 not ship the systems because of the slowdown in aircraft orders. In February L-3 sent Cirrus a bill for $18.7 million to cover SmartDeck development costs. Cirrus allegedly replied that it owed L-3 only $3.5 million–the stated purchase price for the 75 systems.

Since then, “Cirrus has failed to pay any amount due to L-3 and has not responded to any communications from L-3,” the avionics maker said in its lawsuit, which is requesting an additional $2.99 million to recover money allegedly owed for stand-alone systems.

L-3 had also been selected as the avionics development partner for the Cirrus Vision SF50 single-engine jet, but Cirrus in March announced a Garmin cockpit would be used in the production version of that airplane.