Thales has secured the first customer for its touchscreen FlytX avionics suite, namely the French defense procurement agency (DGA) jointly with Airbus, which chose FlytX for the future H160M Joint Light Helicopter. Thales is also studying the possible application of FlytX in the future Tiger Mk.3.
The company launched the commercial version of FlytX this week at the Paris Air Show and the system is on track for certification in 2022, according to Guillaume Lapeyronnie, marketing director for the Thales Flight Avionics Business Line. Following the H160M installation, Thales will target military then air transport and business airplanes.
FlytX is the culmination of Thales’s earlier work on its Avionics 2020 program, and the goal for the FlytX platform was “to create a gamechanger,” Lapeyronnie said. The result is not just a flight deck filled with touchscreen displays but a unique interface that not only makes operating the avionics more intuitive but adds artificial intelligence features to assist the pilots, especially during high-workload conditions.
FlytX is based on four key pillars, he explained. The first is reducing the avionics footprint by integrating computing hardware inside the displays instead of connecting the displays to remotely mounted circuit boards in an electronics bay. This lowers size, weight, and power consumption by 30 to 40 percent compared to older avionics.
The next pillar is to focus on crew-centric design, which lowers pilot workload and training needs and improves situational awareness. “We present only the right information at the right time,” he said. An example of this is the geo-referenced aircraft on the moving map. By pressing on the aircraft, a circular menu pops up, offering only the options available to the pilot for that particular function. This includes a direct-to option and flight plan.
Lapeyronnie said the third pillar is customization, which means that the aircraft manufacturer has much more latitude on selecting how the avionics in their aircraft look and feel. “The OEM has the ability to do their own solution and adapt FlytX to their own concept,” he explained. “We give them tools to do that.”
A key element that enables this is the already certified Thales integrated modular avionics (IMA) technology, which is embedded in FlytX. The OEM can modify the look and feel of the avionics without affecting the core system certification. Also, third-party capabilities can easily be hosted on separate partitions without the need to add more hardware.
The fourth pillar is connectivity to the outside world, but in a secure manner that protects the aircraft from cyber intrusions while also allowing pilots to use commercial products such as tablets running aviation applications.
A unique new feature in FlytX is a “virtual assistant” application using artificial intelligence technology. Lapeyronnie demonstrated how this works with an air traffic control request for the pilot to change frequencies. FlytX captured the controller’s vocal call and pulled up the new frequency on a standby button on one of the displays. All the pilot has to do is touch the button on the display and slide it up to accept it, then it becomes the active frequency.
In another demonstration, he showed how FlytX can take a controller’s issuance of a new route and display it as an option on the moving map. But the artificial intelligence can go further. By analyzing weather conditions on the flight-planned route, for example, FlytX can suggest a better route, then the pilot can select from the available options by touching the route on the display and accepting the new routing.
All of the work done by FlytX behind the scenes also seeks to provide a more efficient route that maximizes passenger comfort and ensures on-time arrival. “This helps the pilot to manage more efficiently,” he said.
If a pilot wants to see the whole flight plan, FlytX pulls up a unique timeline view of the flight plan. Pilots can touch an element on the timeline, such as a waypoint, to manipulate or change it. Thales helpfully included the ability to set a notification to the pilot associated with a waypoint.
Embedded in FlytX is Thale’s software-based flight management system (FMS), which opens up new opportunities for the human-machine interface, making it much simpler to incorporate new technologies like the many available in FlytX into an avionics system. The FlytX demonstrator at the Thales pavilion (Static B1) this week at the Paris Air Show includes the touchscreen technology but also cursor control devices.
Pilots can interact with FlytX in the way they feel most comfortable, although the cursor devices aren’t needed in turbulence. Thales has tested the touchscreens extensively in flight and in a six-axis simulator to make sure pilots can manipulate the displays in bumpy conditions. The displays are fitted with anchor channels on the sides so pilots can keep their hands steady while accessing touchscreen functions.
The four 15-inch displays in the FlytX demonstrator are suitable for larger aircraft but Thales is also offering 10-inch displays and other sizes will be available eventually. Thales can also offer manufacturers head-up displays, either a traditional fixed-combiner system or its TopMax head-worn display, which has an unlimited field of view.