CMC Electronics buys L-3 SmartDeck cockpit

 - November 30, 2010, 5:18 AM

Montreal-based Esterline CMC Electronics has acquired an exclusive technology license for L-3 Communications’ SmartDeck cockpit that will allow the firm to develop, build and market its own integrated flight deck products using L-3 technologies.

CMC Electronics president Greg Yeldon said the agreement with L-3 Avionics Systems to further develop, manufacture and sell the Part 23 SmartDeck glass cockpit technology–which has flown in a Cirrus SR22 and was originally slated for the flight deck of the Cirrus Vision very light jet–is of “strategic importance” to his company. CMC is investing nearly $150 million in research and development for a new integrated avionics suite called FronTier. Canada’s Innovation & Technology Office is kicking in another $52.3 million over the five-year R&D period to bring the cockpit suite to market.

“The low-cost SmartDeck cockpit opens new markets for us and provides a platform for our existing enhanced vision, electronic flight bag and other products,” Yeldon said. “We plan to build on the current SmartDeck technologies using our experience in Part 23 and Part 25 cockpit certification to grow SmartDeck into various adaptable solutions for all types of aircraft.”

The agreement also grants CMC other non-exclusive rights to certain SmartDeck components and applications. SmartDeck is a TSO’d and STC’d integrated avionics system that can include synthetic vision, moving map, weather and terrain awareness features.

“This acquisition will increase CMC’s flexibility to meet our customers’ needs and give us broad applications across various markets,” for both OEM and retrofit opportunities, Yeldon added. He said the licensing agreement was signed after CMC responded to reports that L-3 was willing to sell off SmartDeck technology. The deal also gives CMC exclusive rights to the SmartDeck name.

L-3 Avionics Systems had high hopes for the SmartDeck cockpit but was unable to find a launch customer after Cirrus backed out of a deal to bring the avionics system to its single-engine Vision jet. L-3 sued Cirrus in May 2009, claiming the aircraft manufacturer owed it $18.7 million under supply agreements dating back to 2007, when Cirrus was also seriously considering bringing SmartDeck to the SR22. Cirrus instead chose versions of Garmin’s G1000 cockpit for the Vision jet and as an SR22 option.

In the lawsuit, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based L-3 Avionics alleges that Cirrus signed a contract to purchase 350 SmartDeck systems to serve as the “sole-supplier” cockpit for the Cirrus SR22-G3, but later backed out of the deal. L-3 claims Cirrus eventually agreed to go ahead with the purchase of 75 SmartDeck systems but later asked that L-3 not ship the systems because of a slowdown in aircraft orders. L-3 then demanded Cirrus pay $18.7 million in SmartDeck development costs, a figure Cirrus argued was far too high. L-3’s lawsuit against Cirrus is scheduled to go trial this month.

The main elements of SmartDeck are its large-format flight displays with bezel-mounted soft keys and an innovative center control unit (CCU) that pilots would use for entering flight plan information, setting radio frequencies and transponder codes, selecting autopilot modes and other tasks. SmartDeck is controlled by three sets of concentric rotary knobs, one set for each display unit, and by several dedicated buttons that always command the same function. For example, pushing the “direct to” button always selects a direct course to the active waypoint.

The SmartDeck name has existed for a number of years, tracing its lineage back to the days when Goodrich owned the business. L-3 Communications purchased the company in 2003, giving managers at the avionics division the green light to relaunch SmartDeck with technology assistance from other L-3 divisions. As a result, the CCU display and a number of other components were supplied by sister L-3 companies. SmartDeck development involved 31 individual TSO approvals.

CMC’s FronTier avionics system was originally intended for turbine helicopters, Part 25 business jets and airliners. Discussions  began with a number of OEMs interested in FronTier, which would have been offered with four 14-inch or larger displays, consisting of two PFDs and two MFDs. CMC’s deal with L-3 will allow the firm to continue FronTier development while exploring new markets, the company said.