Garmin looks to expand helo offerings

 - July 30, 2011, 5:50 AM

Garmin is looking to expand its helicopter glass-panel offerings beyond the G500H partial panel and G1000H integrated solutions recently announced for the MD500 and AS350 (G500H) and the Bell 407GX (G1000H), according to Ben Kowalski, Garmin director of OEM sales and marketing.

Kowalski hinted that the company is looking to provide solutions for helicopter training fleets and larger Part 29 helicopters as part of a marketing strategy that mirrors its fixed-wing aviation offerings. Garmin started with single-engine piston aircraft and then progressed into turboprops and light jets before announcing its G5000 integrated avionics system for the Cessna Citation Ten.

“We are always working on new things,” Kowalski said, declining to offer specifics for competitive reasons. 

Kowalski said it took more time initially to develop helicopter products because the systems had to be physically hardened against the increased vibration of a rotorcraft environment and the company had to create specific software adaptations that take into account the unique flying properties of a helicopter.

“The AHRS [attitude heading and reference system] from a fixed-wing system doesn’t like it when you move sideways, and the yaw rate of a helicopter can be much more rapid,” he noted.

“You can’t rip the system out of a Cessna Caravan and just put it in a Bell helicopter.”

Kowalski said Garmin had been talking to both training fleet operators and the OEMs that supply them. “From a training perspective, saving weight is a big deal. Additionally, some fleet customers like having HTaws and satellite weather because they can go on flights they wouldn’t have gone on otherwise or can opt not to go on some flights they would have gone on. This allows them to train more efficiently.”

Based on Garmin’s experience with fixed-wing aircraft, Kowalski said the weight savings in a typical helicopter outfitted or retrofitted with a Garmin system can be anywhere from 100 to 250 pounds. “It all depends on the platform and how old it is.”

He said customers continue to rank HTaws, synthetic vision and the automatic speech recognition (ASR) feature in Garmin’s GMA 350 audio panel as their favorite glass-panel helicopter avionics features. Kowalski said pilots particularly appreciate the ASR feature, as it allows them to keep both hands on the flight controls. “We have a road map to develop ASR further,” he said.

Garmin is also exploring additional retrofit opportunities for the G500H. “The rotorcraft market was grossly underserved, but in the last few years there have been some fantastic technologies developed for the fixed-wing world that have migrated into helicopters,” Kowalski said.