Cool City Building Low-cost Helicopter Autopilots

 - March 29, 2011, 10:50 AM

Jim Irwin has launched a new company that is targeting the light helicopter autopilot market. Irwin is a veteran of helicopter and fixed-wing autopilot development and he sees an opportunity that hasn’t been fully tapped.

Cool City’s business plan calls for certifying a line of automatic flight control products that will be small, lightweight, inexpensive and easy to install, with prices and ease of certification that should enable the system to find a home in light helicopters, where cost and complexity currently exclude their use. Irwin is taking a modular approach to certifying light helicopter stability augmentation and autopilot systems. The goal is to maintain component commonality and use proven automatic flight control design concepts while employing current technology.

The Cool City product line will start with simple stability augmentation, moving up through more complex systems into two- and three-axis autopilots. One area that will help keep costs down is through minimizing complexity by foregoing full-blown digital air data AHRS in favor of simple accelerometer-based sensors, conservative and uncomplicated control laws and a fail-passive autopilot servo system.

Plans call for Cool City Avionics to certify a three-axis autopilot with stability augmentation, using a company-owned Robinson R44 as the certification vehicle. “Then it will be much easier to certify the simpler systems using the same components,” Irwin explained. Cool City Avionics expects to price its products in the $30,000 to $50,000 range compared with $100,000 and up for current rotorcraft-certified automatic flight control systems, according to Irwin.

The name Cool City Avionics refers to Cool, Texas, a municipality near Mineral Wells, home of the autopilot company that over the years has transitioned from Mitchell, Edo, Meggitt, S-Tec to the current Cobham. It was in Cool that Irwin–one of the founders of S-Tec–and some colleagues began mulling the development of autopilot systems specifically for light helicopters.