If you’re not yet an iPad user, you might as well get used to touchscreen technology because that’s clearly where the industry is headed, and with good reason. Rockwell Collins’s Pro Line Fusion Touch upgrade is a case in point. Touchscreens reduce not only pilot workload, but also pilot head-down time, an especially important item in single-pilot operations. Fusion’s synthetic vision also improves situational awareness.
What the iPad did to organize cockpit paperwork and charts, Pro Line Fusion Touch will bring to the instrument panel when the company’s latest STCs for the King Air line are approved. One STC will upgrade Pro Line 21 systems; the other, older Pro Line II avionics. In a Pro Line 21 upgrade, even the King Air’s ugly 42-lamp crew alerting system (CAS) is integrated into the multifunction display, as is a new audio panel. The first STC to “Fusionize” the Pro Line 21 King Air panel is expected before year-end, while the STC to update Pro Line II systems is expected next summer. Upgrade work will be handled initially by Landmark Aviation’s Winston-Salem MRO facility.
Rockwell Collins is no stranger to the latest technology, having certified Pro Line Fusion (not touchscreen) in 2012 for the Global 5000/6000 series as well as for the Gulfstream G280 (branded as PlaneView). AIN recently evaluated Pro Line Fusion Touch on a brief flight in Rockwell Collins’s King Air 250 from Chicago Rockford International Airport:
To say a Pro Line Fusion upgrade cleans up the King Air cockpit is a bit of an understatement. The graphical color maps appearing on those huge flat screens include high-resolution terrain, weather overlays, obstacles and geo-political boundaries. The Fusion FMS also adds LPV approach capability. A new center-pedestal keyboard for those who really like the tactile feel of the buttons assists with flight plans or quick moves between screen options, although it might be more useful in some turbulent conditions.
The large displays incorporate Rockwell Collins’s patented dome-on-airport synthetic vision system to better orient the pilot from the top-of-descent. Fusion also incorporates target runway highlighting and a final approach path outline that includes roadsign-like reminders of distance to touchdown. An L-3 standby attitude/airspeed/altimeter, which runs for 60 minutes on its own battery, also rides prominently just below the top of the glareshield after the upgrade. One item that remains however, is the original Rockwell Collins autopilot.
If there is a drawback to Fusion, it’s really the same weakness pilots would identify in any modern computer–an almost overwhelming amount of visual information, not to mention dozens of possible screen-configuration options. To help with the transition, especially for pilots unfamiliar with touchscreens, Rockwell Collins is creating a modular, self-paced computer-based training (CBT) program that includes self-guided practice tools.
Because pilots who fly the new Pro Line Fusion system arrive with varying levels of avionics and computer experience, Rockwell Collins believes choosing the appropriate module as the starting point shouldn’t be too difficult. Designers said a pilot transitioning from a Pro Line 21 system will find the differences to be only slight, while operators of older Pro Line II aircraft may need a bit more time to feel comfortable. Training can include an instructor-led course for fleet operators or those who prefer a more personal touch. My previous experience was with Pro Line II in a Hawker and, of course, touchscreens on the iPad.
Departing Rockford (RFD) for the test flight with Rockwell Collins instructor Scott Simpson in the right seat, it’s important to note that I had no previous training on the Fusion system other than a quick tour just before engine start. But just lining up on the runway before bringing up the power, I could see a wealth of useful information ready to lead me toward our first point, the Polo (PLL) VOR west of RFD where we planned to stay out of the way of Chicago arrival traffic and to give me an opportunity to see more of the Fusion system and of course, touch some screens. Because Illinois is so flat, it was impossible to evaluate the synthetic vision although it did clearly point out a radio tower beneath us as we climbed to 5,500 feet.
I still recall my early days in the Pro Line II Hawker trying to figure out how to make the airplane enter a hold with the autopilot engaged. Avionics training in those days was extremely limited, which meant a tremendous amount of head-down time while I was also trying to fly the airplane. On the Fusion MFD, I simply touched the PLL VOR symbol and a menu appeared offering holding as an option. I chose “direct” and engaged the autopilot. Entry was flawless and the entire thought process about the hold probably consumed five seconds of my attention. I even threw the system what I thought were a few curve balls by adding a new destination airport and once headed out of the hold, suddenly changing my mind and asking Fusion to take me back. The system handled the changes easily.
We also shot a couple of practice LPV approaches to Runway 25 back at RFD, one with automation, the other hand-flown. I simply touched the Runway 23 final approach feather on the MFD and it opened a menu of options, one of which was the Rnav GPS approach, either via vectors or complete. I chose the vectored version as RFD approach put me on a left downwind.
With the accuracy of the aircraft on the screen to our real position, it was clear early on that we had a wind from the right–even without the wind vector–blowing us back toward the final approach. The controller eventually turned us another 15 degrees right to compensate. Passing abeam RFD, I glanced at the representation of airport on the primary flight display, which appeared as a white dome; it started out transparent and became denser as we neared, for easy reference. Once we were cleared, the automated approach was a piece of cake, except, of course, I was not yet sure of precisely what each new symbol represented.
Ground training on Pro Line Fusion Touch before the first flight should be considered a must. The graphical roadsigns on the PFD final made distance to touchdown as clear as the automated altitudes did for our height above the ground: “100, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10.” I pulled the power levers to idle and landed. Wow. Fusion Touch is impressive, very impressive indeed.