L-3 brings EVS to the masses

 - November 7, 2006, 9:52 AM

“We’re changing the game in how enhanced vision is brought to the market,” said Adrienne Stevens, president of L-3 Avionics Systems, introducing the company’s low-cost forward-looking infrared imaging system, called IRIS.

The core of L-3’s IRIS is a barium-strontium-titanate sensor, adapted from the automotive industry and modified with added electronics for aviation applications. The BST sensor is mounted in a 1.7-pound camera that delivers a composite video feed to any cockpit display or electronic flight bag that accepts analog video. L-3 is demonstrating the IRIS camera with a video at its booth (No. 4299) and also in the company’s King Air 90 parked at the NBAA static display.

L-3 will sell the IRIS camera for $15,000, plus installation, and plans to begin deliveries after earning initial supplemental type certificates in the first quarter of next year. The first airplane to be STC’d will be L-3’s Beech King Air 90, and the company plans to obtain STCs for other airplane types.

L-3 plans to focus on aircraft manufacturers as a primary target for the IRIS, according to Joe Hoffman, group vice president strategic planning, and then the aftermarket. “We’ve been working on this for 18 months,” he said. “We just got corporate approval [to go public] in August.” Airplanes from business jets to four-place piston singles are the optimal market, he said. “It’s affordable. That’s what changes the rules of the game. Prices of systems out there today restrict who can buy them.”

L-3 Avionics considers the combination of its IRIS camera with a cockpit display to be an enhanced-vision system (EVS) to the masses. Larger jet EVSs use infrared sensors that must be cooled for optimal performance, but these cost as much as $500,000. While these systems deliver greater sensitivity than the IRIS, said Larry Riddle, vice president of business development, IRIS does not need to be cooled, which cuts the cost dramatically. “For the price range,” he said, “it meets and exceeds what general aviation needs.”

For pilots, the IRIS camera’s video feed is advisory only and doesn’t provide information that pilots can use to fly to lower minimums. But it does capture infrared energy from anything within the sensor’s 24- by 18-degree field of view, as far as the eye can see. L-3’s video shows side-by-side views of unlit mountains at night that can be seen by the IRIS camera but not the pilot’s eyes. Other examples of the camera’s capabilities include deer on airports, poorly lit airplanes taxiing at night, clouds and the nighttime view spotting a runway surrounded by city lights. In the video, the IRIS view clearly demonstrates an enhanced view of the outside world. The IRIS BST sensor will work through smoke and fog, too, although high amounts of water in fog can make it hard for infrared radiation to penetrate.

L-3 Avionics obtained the IRIS technology from sister company L-3 Communications Infrared Products, which sells the Thermal-Eye camera used in Nightdriver automotive applications. “We took the baseline product and modified it,” said Riddle. In addition to adding aviation-type electrical connectors and making the camera work with 28-volt electrical systems, L-3 Avionics added electronic circuitry that continuously recalibrates the BST sensor hundreds of times a second to prevent blooms of light when the sensor points at a bright infrared source. This recalibration allows the IRIS camera to provide a clear image even when pointed at the sun. While the sun will be a bright disk, the area around the sun will clearly show anything visible through infrared, like other airplanes or the horizon when flying east on a sunny morning. “It’s not just the sensor,” said chief technology officer Wendy Ljungren, “it’s what we wrapped around it.”

L-3 Avionics also announced here that its software-based ADR-7050 navcom system received technical standard order authorization from the FAA.