A Different Concept on the Future of Helicopter Avionics

 - March 6, 2013, 5:15 PM

The rush to synthetic vision and integrated avionics with cursor control for the next generation of helicopters is decidedly evident in this year’s Heli-Expo exhibit halls. While Thales (Booth No. C6428) dazzles attendees in the central hall with its TopDeck suite, MD Helicopters (Booth No. N4121) is wowing them in the north hall with the Universal Avionics system developed for the MD Explorer.

“We’ve decided that touchscreens are not the way to go, for reasons of durability and practicality,” said Grady Dees, director of technical sales for Universal Avionics Systems.

MD Helicopters vice president of engineering Chris Nehls heartily agreed. “The on-cyclic cursor control keeps the pilot focused on flying, we think,” said Nehls. The engineers decided, as well, to retain certain key knobs that pilots rely on, including the heading bug knob on the panel under the PFD. “It is what pilots are used to, and we want to make the system easy to transition to,” he continued. There is also a separate EFIS control display unit located on the center console that houses all of the buttons and knobs that are conspicuously missing from the bezel of the 12-inch PFD/MFD displays.

Other highlights of the two- or optional three-screen system are the 360-degree-arc tilted HSI presentation and integration with a pair of helicopter-optimized Garmin GTN 650s located on the central console for navcom and GPS functions.

Maintenance technicians will like the dedicated SD card server, to be located on the console as well. “We designed it for quick access for data downloads and also for database uploads,” said Universal’s Dees.

Universal and MD Helicopters are expecting certification of the MD Explorer flight deck next year. “We hope that by the end of the decade the bulk of the MD fleet is flying with the Explorer cockpit,” said Dees. The system is designed to be retrofittable to existing MD helicopter cockpits. “It is definitely the look of things to come,” he said. o