Rockwell Collins traces its spirit of innovation to a rich heritage

 - June 18, 2008, 10:34 AM

A business is an institution when one of a city’s major thoroughfares and one of its fine hotels bears its name. That’s the way it is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Collins Road runs near the Collins Plaza Hotel. There, in 1933, hometown boy Arthur Collins began the Collins Radio Co. in a basement factory to build the amateur radio transmitters that he had first designed and fabricated himself, and for which the 24-year-old was already nationally known.

Today, with 7,000 workers in Cedar Rapids alone, Rockwell Collins is the largest single employer in the city of about 125,000. But at first the company was hardly noticed beyond the city limits. With his father as vice president and his young wife the major stockholder, Collins saw his fledgling firm prosper not only in the amateur radio field, but in the commercial broadcast equipment field during the Great Depression, when many long-established companies struggled to survive. Over four decades, innovation, determination, a bit of genius and commitment to quality also earned Arthur Collins’ once-tiny family business renown for its military, airline and business aviation radio products.

In 1973, Collins Radio entered the Rockwell International conglomerate, joining other aviation entities such as North American, Aero Commander and Sabreliner. Collins Avionics products enjoyed such broad acceptance for their performance and reliability that Rockwell chairman Willard Rockwell, in BusinessWeek magazine, called the former Collins Radio Co. “the jewel in the crown” of the Rockwell organization. For 28 years Collins, and in particular the Avionics Group’s three divisions, consistently contributed to Rockwell International’s bottom line.

Then this year, Rockwell International “emancipated” Collins in the course of morphing into Rockwell Automation. Now, Rockwell Collins (the “Rockwell” retained for name recognition) is a stand-alone company once again. Three days after the official June 29 spin-off, stock in the independent Rockwell Collins began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “COL,” opening just below $24 per share, although it soon dropped to $19.

The company has introduced several product initiatives under the general theme,  “Take Control.” Collins unveiled its eFlight on-board information system concept to integrate global communication to and from both the flight deck and passenger cabin. Going far beyond cabin entertainment, eFlight is described as an ongoing process that will begin with currently available technology and services, structured to enfold advanced capabilities as they emerge.

Collins spokespeople told AIN that eFlight will operate with hardware of its Pro Line 21 and Pro Line 21 Continuum lines along with a specially designed partitioned file server. The company will soon offer detailed briefings on the eFlight concept, hardware architectures, service provider interfaces and future functions. A number of eFlight cabin information system products will come from California-based facilities of Passenger Systems, one of the three operating units in the Collins Commercial Systems group. Those facilities are the former Hughes Avicom (Pomona) and recently acquired Sony Transcom (Irvine).

While Pro Line 21 and Pro Line 21 Continuum hardware is identical, the latter reflects a renewed Collins emphasis on the retrofit market. Pro Line 21 encompasses integrated systems for OEM applications. Both versions operate in a variety of airframe data distribution architectures and configurations, both digital and analog. Collins is prominently featuring Pro Line 21’s first OEM airframe application, on the Bombardier Continental. The Continental’s flight deck is dominated by four 13.3-in. (diagonal viewing area) liquid-crystal high-resolution adaptive flight displays, one of business aviation’s largest, Collins notes. In line with the eFlight concept, the Continental is provisioned for future high-speed datalink download of maintenance data, as is the flight management system (FMS) computer to handle flight plan data linking.

Collins has also described its program to provide Pro Line 21 for the Hawker 800XP. Collins, as systems integrator, will mate Pro Line 21 avionics with its turbulence-detection weather radar and TCAS II systems. All will interface with Honeywell’s EGPWS.

Elements of both Pro Line 21 and Pro Line 21 Continuum include a new family of communication/navigation/surveillance (CNS) radios featuring reduced size and number of LRUs, which are 30 to 50 percent lighter than the Pro Line 4 units they replace.

CL-604 Upgrade

Bombardier and Collins have unveiled a Challenger 604 upgrade, dubbed PrecisionPlus, to enhance capabilities of the Challenger’s Collins Pro Line 4 avionics.
Bombardier began integrating PrecisionPlus into production aircraft this summer. Current Challenger 604 operators will be able to implement the upgrade via a series of Collins and Bombardier Service PrecisionPlus features including FMS-based integrated V-speed calculations and displays, engine thrust management and increased EICAS functionality. Optional features include a 3-D flight-plan map and automatic generation of search pattern waypoints.

Calculated V-speeds appear on primary flight and multifunction displays (PFD and MFD). After flight plan entry and performance initialization, the FMS automatically generates takeoff, approach and missed approach speeds as well as weight limits, runway lengths, climb gradients and stabilizer trim settings. The only required pilot manual input at the FMS control-display unit is ATIS-provided outside air temperature, which the FAA requires to compute takeoff numbers. All other parameters come from digital aircraft flight manuals, stored airport information and air-data inputs.

PrecisionPlus thrust management for non-Fadec engines computes and displays takeoff, maximum continuous, climb and cruise N1 targets. PrecisionPlus 3-D flight-plan mapping and display capabilities integrate lateral and vertical navigation views for better situational awareness. Using a joystick on a pedestal-mounted controller, pilots will be able to rotate the viewing angle to any orientation for 3-D views of takeoff and climb constraints, Vnav descent paths and approach/missed-approach procedures. The display also shows predictive combined lateral and vertical flight paths, with changes displayed instantly when entered into the FMS CDU.

Collins said the PrecisionPlus program will represent “the first commercial certifications by anyone, anywhere” of the 3-D map and V-speed calculation systems as “primary means.” In other words, no crosscheck of FMS-computed numbers with the paper flight manual will be required. The basic CL-604 PrecisionPlus upgrade also
provides other FMS enhancements including:

• Blending of actual observed and entered winds for better time and fuel predictions;

• Improved North Atlantic waypoint reporting capability;

• Polar navigation to latitudes higher than 89 deg;

• Added metric fuel indication capability; and

• Full-time DME distance on the MFD.

All-attitude Quartz Gyro

More than 20 years ago Collins began researching ways to derive angular rates and velocities from the property of crystals to produce minute electrical currents when subjected to movement or force. Collins engineers felt they could use this piezoelectric effect in solid-state attitude and heading reference systems (AHRS) to replace gimbaled “spinning iron” directional and attitude gyros and accelerometers. An AHRS based on ceramic piezoelectric sensors demonstrated MTBFs up to five times better than conventional VGs and DGs, without the latters’ gyroscopic precession.

Now, further advances in microprocessing devices and techniques have led that R&D effort to bear fruit in a second generation of solid-state angular rate and acceleration sensing systems. The AHS-3000 digital quartz AHRS being shown and demonstrated at NBAA 2001 is OEM standard equipment on the Raytheon Premier I, Cessna CJ1 and CJ2, Gulfstream G100 and G200 (née Galaxy), and will be standard on the Hawker 800XP and Bombardier Continental.

STC programs are expected to begin in six months on the Rockwell Sabre 65; Canadair Challenger 600 (triplex system); Lockheed JetStar; Gulfstream II, IIB and III; Dassault Falcon 50; and Learjet 55. David Smith, Collins business and regional systems director for product management, said the system’s computer/ sensor and compensation unit, comprising the AHS-3000, is expected to achieve a more than 5,000-hr MTBF. The complete AHS-3000 AHRS includes a magnetic flux unit to provide a north heading reference.

With no moving parts or finite-life light source, and very precise, stable outputs, the AHS-3000 AHRS is extremely vibration-tolerant and ideal for rotorcraft and military applications, Smith said. He added it is compatible with both integrated digital avionics and older analog installations as direct replacement for gimbaled gyros.

Smith said adding GPS data will eliminate the need for a flux unit.  He predicted that differential GPS (DGPS) position, altitude, ground track and ground speed inputs will allow the digital quartz-sensor-based AHRS to provide inertial quality outputs at a fraction of the price and with virtually none of the maintenance cost of current inertial systems.

Collins plans to give customers hands-on demonstrations of its latest Flight Dynamics head-up display (HUD) capabilities, as part of the company’s advanced flight deck development rig. Programming includes simulation of current and near-future enhancements that will, said Gary Moore, marketing manager for the Portland, Ore. business unit, “make this system a flight director in the truest sense.”

Collins is moving to capitalize on the Flight Dynamics head-up guidance system’s (HGS) strong air-transport market position to seize a major portion of the business and regional airline HUD business. It is demonstrating how a surface guidance system (SGS) now in development can aid pilots during landing rollout and taxi, especially at unfamiliar airports in low visibility. SGS will combine DGPS and–in later stages–enhanced vision system (EVS) technology, with digital datalink for ATC and ground control instructions to provide taxi guidance cues, available stopping distance and hold-short symbology.

The present Flight Dynamics HGS is Cat IIIa approach certified and has logged seven million hours in airline revenue service, Moore said. He added that phased SGS development is scheduled to begin in 2003, with high-speed taxiway turnoff guidance likely to be the first available capability.  Moore said dual-band EVS may be used to augment computer-generated virtual runway environment symbology.

The latest Flight Dynamics HGS iteration being demonstrated at NBAA 2001 includes a complete set of PFD symbology on the combiner glass along with visual runway predictive cues.

Home-grown Talent

Greg Churchill, 10 weeks into his tenure as v-p and general manager of Rockwell Collins Business and Regional Systems, is at his first NBAA Convention after serving Rockwell International’s military and space organizations in a variety of positions. The son of former Rockwell Collins Avionics Group president Jim Churchill (now in retirement near Hilton Head, S.C.), Greg was previously v-p for business development at Rockwell Collins Government Systems in Cedar Rapids.

“Even though I haven’t worked directly in this [business and regional] market, I’m familiar with our products and people in it, having worked with them to provide off-the-shelf commercial equipment to Defense Department users. Once we convinced the military that Milspec wasn’t the only way to go, we were able to save the taxpayers quite a bit of money,” he told AIN.

The native Californian first went to Iowa as a youngster and graduated from high school in Cedar Rapids. He later returned to the Los Angeles area in finance-related positions with Rockwell’s space systems operation in Downey.