Eurocopter tests prove value of Galileo satnav

 - May 3, 2010, 6:40 AM

Eurocopter recently announced the success of the flights it conducted in November with an EC145 light twin to test Galileo satellite navigation. Galileo, Europe’s GPS counterpart, is expected to offer higher reliability than current augmented GPS. But
the helicopter manufacturer does not expect the tested applications to be operational until 2015.

The tests, part of the Mages European research project devoted to developing applications of Galileo for emergency services, took place in Berchtesgaden, South Germany. There, the so-called “Galileo test and development environment” consists of a test area with antennas on six mountain peaks. These antennas simulate Galileo satellites, for those vehicles situated below them.

The trials included tests of synthetic vision and the rescue of an “injured” fireman in a remote area. The synthetic- vision system Eurocopter developed used a Galileo signal to position the synthetic terrain on the display. The pilot was provided with “tunnel in the sky” symbology. “Eurocopter had developed it under a previous research program” and adapted it to the new data source, Stefan Haisch, Eurocopter’s Mages project manager, told AIN.

SAR Applications
Eurocopter foresees advanced rescue applications for helicopters equipped with Galileo receivers. The Galileo signal provides information about its own reliability, and combined with highly reliable terrain data and obstacle detection systems, as well as real-time air traffic information via datalink, this would allow for the development of new flight procedures. Rescue helicopters could land near unprepared accident sites even in poor weather, Eurocopter researchers hope.

One of the November tests included a trial of Galileo’s “integrity alarm,” which warns the pilot that continuing the flight might be unsafe. “For the receiver to give a reliable position, seeing four satellites is the minimum,” Haisch said. With three satellites, the position is in two dimensions, rather than three. Other systems on board, such as inertial reference systems, can provide a temporary replacement. However, Haisch emphasized, such systems can be relied on for only a few minutes.

The test EC145 also “rescued” someone posing as an injured fireman. He was carrying a portable ADS-B transmitter, which was basing its position on the Galileo signal. The helicopter was receiving ADS-B information on its navigation system, where the fireman’s position was displayed. Funkwerk Avionics provided ADS-B transponder technology.

In a future test, such ADS-B signals could be transmitted to a ground station to give an operations center a full overview of the situation, Haisch said. Such information could be invaluable in fighting forest fires in remote places, since mobile phone networks are not available everywhere or can be destroyed by the event itself.

The cost of Galileo-receiving equipment is expected to be “in the same order of magnitude” as current GPS-based hardware, Haisch said.     

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