Rockwell Collins Updating Military Flight Decks

 - February 13, 2012, 8:00 AM
Rockwell Collins is leveraging work on its Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics suite, selected for several business and regional jets, for the new Embraer KC-390 military transport (above), while flight deck displays for the new Boeing KC-46A aerial refueling tanker (below) are modeled after those on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

With the award last summer of a $160 million contract to provide avionics for the U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker, Rockwell Collins (Booth Q79) became the primary avionics supplier for all USAF tankers. The U.S. manufacturer recently completed a fleetwide update of systems on the KC-135 Stratotanker, and will provide flight deck displays and other systems on its replacement, the KC-46A.

Rockwell Collins also is making its mark in the international arena for modern air mobility, winning selection by Embraer to provide the flight deck of the KC-390 military transport under development for the Brazilian air force. The company says it has delivered more than 150 C-130 avionics upgrades to international customers.

In winning a prime position on high-profile platforms such as the KC-46A and Brazilian KC-390, Rockwell Collins was able to leverage its work on similarly high-profile aircraft in the commercial and business aviation markets. For example, the KC-46A, based on Boeing’s 767-200ER airframe, will feature 15.1 inch-diagonal liquid crystal displays (LCDs) modeled after those on the 787 Dreamliner.

The new-build KC-390 features a flight deck based on Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics suite, specified for the Embraer Legacy 450/500 mid-size business jets and several other new business and regional jets.

Lisa Steffen, formerly Rockwell Collins principal engineering manager for the Boeing 787 display program, led the company’s KC-46A display system proposal. “That system leverages heavily from our commercial systems side of the business,” said Mike Jones, senior director of tanker/transport programs. “We’re using the commercial engineering team as an integrated member of the KC-46 program to make the modifications to the software involved, the applications.”

Rockwell Collins is supplying a tactical situational awareness system (TSAS) display for KC-46A pilots that will fuse information from satcom and Link 16 datalinks and onboard sensors to provide an integrated picture of the operational environment. Crew members will guide the refueling boom with a Rockwell Collins remote vision system based on optical sensors configured on the aircraft to provide panoramic and 3-D views. The boom operator, wearing special glasses, will be able to guide the boom to the receiving aircraft while viewing a stereoscopic 3-D display. The company is providing an Ethernet backbone, called the Signal Data Concentrator Network, that will translate and route data between avionic components.

Strategic Partners

Embraer and the Brazilian government launched the KC-390 in April 2009 as a replacement for Brazilian air force C-130s, and have signed on Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic and Portugal as strategic partners for potentially hundreds of aircraft. The Brazilian air force has committed to 28 aircraft.

Jones said the selection of Pro Line Fusion for the Legacy 450/500 business jets, announced in April 2008, “exposed Embraer to what we believe is a very good set of capabilities” and helped shape the eventual KC-390 avionics requirement–but didn’t guarantee Rockwell Collins a position on the new airlifter. “Our commercial business has several positions where Pro Line Fusion is established,” he said.

“As Embraer made the decision to roll out KC-390, they also made the decision to bring similar types of capabilities as Pro Line Fusion. Of course, there was a competition [for the avionics]. Just because the commercial side of the business was established by no means meant it was a shoe-in.”

A main difference of the military flight deck compared to the civil Pro Line Fusion suite will be to make it night-vision compatible, Jones said. The KC-390 will have five, 15-inch LCDs, an integrated flight information management system with electronic charts and “point-and-click” access, a flight management system with graphical flight planning capability and automated database management. The airlifter will be equipped for required navigation performance (RNP) 0.3 procedures­–the ability to stay within 0.3 nautical miles left or right of centerline on approach.

RNP Upgrades

New aircraft programs may garner publicity, but updating legacy aircraft for RNP and other capabilities that eventually will be mandated in civilian airspace is a substantial business for Rockwell Collins. This past summer, the company completed avionics delivery of 419 C/KC-135 global air traffic management (GATM) upgrades to the U.S. Air Force.

The upgrade involves communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) modifications that enable unrestricted access to civilian airspace. Rockwell Collins supplied products including the GNLU-955 multimode receiver, VDL-2000 VHF datalink, SAT-2000 satcom radio, CMU-900 communications management unit and IPC-7000 integrated processing center. The four-engine KC-135, the military version of the Boeing 707 that entered service in 1957, now is going through a Block 45 upgrade to add a digital autopilot and engine instrument display system, replacing center-panel engine instruments with a nine- by 12-inch LCD.

Jones said so-called CNS/ATM (air traffic management) upgrades involve a long list of modifications, such as 8.33 kHz radio channel spacing for voice communications, RNP and installation of Mode-S transponders for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) capability, which will be required in European airspace in 2015 and U.S. airspace in 2020. “There’s always the potential for [military] forces to get waivers, but it makes the mission profile more complicated,” Jones said. “MODs and DODs around the world are trying to find low-cost solutions to comply with those mandates… It’s a sizable market and a driver of avionics upgrades, especially for legacy platforms.”

The CNS/ATM upgrade of the KC-10 Extender, a militarized McDonnell Douglas DC-10, calls for Rockwell Collins to provide a flight management system, displays, data link communications and surveillance capabilities. Many international operators of the C-130 four-engine turboprop are seeking similar capability, Jones said. “We’re aggressively marketing to the C-130 community with affordable CNS/ATM solutions,” he said. “We do see opportunity there, but it’s a very stiff competition.”