Singapore Air Show

Barco visuals provide PC-21s with a display to remember

 - February 11, 2008, 9:31 AM

A twin turboprop trainer can’t hope to fully replicate an F-16 fighter, but rookie pilots with the Republic of Singapore Air Force will quickly get a feel for the complex systems and information management tasks they will ultimately face through the advanced visual systems of the Pilatus PC-21s they will soon be using.

The Swiss airframer has sought to provide a flexible and efficient training platform that can accommodate basic, advanced and lead-in fighter instruction. It always knew the cockpit’s visual system would be a crucial element, and so early on it turned to display specialist Barco to develop just the right package. For the Belgian company, the PC-21 program has provided an excellent showcase for its ability to apply advanced display technology.

“We’re moving into an era in the training world where we have to meet the requirements of operational fighter pilots, who have complex tasks in system and information management,” explained Pilatus test pilot Bill Tyndall. “To prepare people for operational aircraft we had to replace old, mechanical displays with electronic displays that are easy to change and manage.”

According to Pilatus, the LCD cockpit displays that Barco developed for the PC-21 have achieved the following objectives: easy system integration, high resolution, full compatibility with night-vision goggles, low mass and low through-life costs. But flexibility in training applications was also a big requirement.

“Every air force has its own particular requirements and the PC-21 displays had to be customizable to those needs,” said Bruno Cervia, head of engineering at Pilatus. “If our customer wants a PC-21 that integrates specific mission software or an autopilot function, the display should be adapted to provide it.” Barco invested a lot of time in adapting off-the-shelf displays to military specifications.

Each of the PC-21’s tandem cockpits features three six- by eight-inch active-matrix LCDs and is fully integrated with Barco’s software. The front and rear cockpits can be fully uncoupled so the instructor can access training modes and sensor data that are not available to the trainee pilot.

The primary flight displays show information such as speed, altitude, attitude, as well as turn-and-slip and navigational data. The multifunction displays offer a wide array of page formats covering the main aircraft systems, engine instrumentation crew alerting functions, checklists, moving maps, simulated stores management and tactical displays.

Honeywell has selected Barco to develop large-screen cockpit displays for Pilatus’ single turboprop PC-12, where its displays are found in the new Primus Apex avionics suite.

Over the past decade, airframers and systems integrators have increasingly turned to Barco to provide advanced LCDs for both new and upgraded cockpits, and it now boasts some 60 different platforms. “We provide all the visualization building blocks and software they need so they can move up the food chain in terms of development and production,” explained Jean-Christophe Monfret, Barco’s avionics product management director.

Under a partnership with NIIAO of Russia, Barco’s displays have played an integral part in modernizing Russian aircraft such as the Beriev Be-200, as well as the Tupolev Tu-204, Tu-214 and Tu-334 with control display systems, flight management systems and Western symbology. Its equipment is found on 80 percent of all new Russian aircraft, including current production Ilyushin Il-96 widebody airliners. The company also has established customer support capability in Moscow.

L-3 chose Barco to contribute to the touchscreen displays team for the Joint Strike Fighter cockpit, and Lockheed Martin selected the company to contribute to the JSF training suite with advanced image processing and video display systems. These selections came even though Belgium is not a partner nation in the program–testament to how well the avionics systems integrator must regard its display expertise.

For the Airbus A380 super large airliner, Barco has worked with France’s Sagem to provide the onboard information terminal, a foldable keyboard and pointing devices, as well an the onboard maintenance terminal. These are for a Class 3 electronic flight bag application for which Sagem and Airbus are writing the software. Barco also provides advanced displays for CAE and Thales flight simulators.

At last year’s Paris Air Show, Barco announced a new version of its CHDD-268 primary flight and mission display, featuring new touchscreen technology. The systems, being offered for both new platforms and retrofit programs, are expected to overcome typical drawbacks of existing touchscreen devices, such as limited viewing angles, low reliability and disturbing reflections. The CHDD-268’s 80-degree viewing angle makes for better cross-cockpit scanning by either pilot.

The new display is suitable for a variety of applications, including forward-looking infrared, mission and weather displays, enhanced vision systems, moving maps and electronic flight information systems.

The CHDD-268 has a six- by eight-inch sunlight-readable LCD display that is compatible with night vision goggles, and features LED backlight technology. According to Barco, it presents pilots with high-contrast, ultra-bright images, while ensuring maximum reliability over the lifetime of the display.

Last year, Honeywell chose Barco to develop and manufacture the new DU-8X5 family of multifunction cockpit displays as upgrades for CRT-based display units used with legacy Sperry/ Honeywell Primus 1000, 2000, 2000XP, SPZ-8400, 8500 and 8000 avionics systems. The upgrade addresses a potential market of up to 5,000 aircraft. Barco’s MOSArt open architecture (see box) creates a flexible host platform for Honeywell’s latest applications, including electronic charts, maps, ground proximity warning and weather.

Mindful of the ongoing imbalance between the U.S. dollar and the euro currencies, Barco is now looking to increase activities in dollar-linked and lower cost economies. Today, much of its avionics activity centers on its Belgium and U.S. operation in the Atlanta area.

Barco Composes Display System with MOSArt

Barco’s MOSArt modular open system architecture is largely responsible for allowing systems integrators to stay in control of how their own software applications–such as flight management systems–are applied in conjunction with Barco’s display hardware. The Arinc 653-compliant platform means that several avionics applications, such as digital maps and primary flight displays, can run simultaneously on the same display without one compromising the integrity of another.

This approach saves space and weight in reducing the number of units required in a cockpit. It also means that Barco’s clients are free to make changes to their systems without having to send the displays back for refitting, which helps when implementing new features in a display system. And when a re-certification is needed, it now is faster and cheaper.

Barco’s new DU-8X5 family of multifunction cockpit displays, which are the basis for Honeywell’s plan to upgrade the Primus 1000, 2000, 2000XP, SPZ-8400, 8500 and 8000 avionics suites, is a prime example of what MOSArt can offer. The open architecture allows Honeywell to leave the primary flight displays unchanged from the original cathode-ray-tube systems, while at the same time allowing it to mix and match other new elements such as the I-Nav and I-Chart features from the new-generation Primus Epic suites.

According to Jean-Christophe Monfret, Barco’s avionics product management director, the group’s other key strengths are in its broad knowledge of LCD applications and its ability to make displays more rugged and suitable for multiple roles. Barco’s U.S. division has a lot of experience in developing graphics processing engines that are necessary for synthetic-vision and three-dimensional applications, such as training simulation. The company has also invested heavily in touchscreen controls for head-down displays, as well as in video treatment technology such as Arinc-compliant fiberoptics needed for products such as enhanced vision systems.

Barco’s research team is now examining alternatives to LCDs with a view to overcoming problems with this technology, such as equipment sourcing, power and heat management issues, and size restrictions.