Astronautics has captured a key program as the provider of the integrated flight display system on the newly designated Bell 412EPX, as well as the 429. The supplier agreement is significant for the Milwaukee-based electronics specialist, which has invested substantially in the past five years to build on its existing product lines and add new displays, connectivity equipment, and other technologies.
Under the agreement with Bell, Astronautics is providing its updated Badger Pro+ displays for the Bell BasiX-Pro flight deck, replacing Rogerson Kratos displays.
The Badger Pro+ project has been in the works for several years, and Astronautics (Booth 1428) has secured FAA TSO for the display line as well as certification for both the 412 EPX and 429.
The first few Bell 412EXPs have rolled off the production line, including one that is on display at the Bell booth (1231).
Astronautics is providing four six-by-eight-inch, high-resolution displays for the BasiX-Pro flight deck of the 412EXP and three for the 429. Working with Bell, Astronautics customized the displays to the specifics of the BasiX-Pro flight deck, providing improved viewability to easily access primary flight, navigation, and engine data, as well as system synoptics, weight-and-balance, and checklist information.
The displays build on the heritage of the Badger family, which has proven itself during one million flight hours on aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-7, Boeing 747, and Bell UH-1, Astronautics said.
The enhanced graphics include fonts and black outlines that make symbology “pop,” said Brian Keery, product strategy manager for Astronautics. “A pilot doesn't have to search as hard to find information," he added. "It's a very clear display.” The displays are particularly easier to read in sunlight with higher contrast. They also have improved color saturation, enabling a wide view angle. “With the clarity, you can see it no matter where you are…you can't get out of viewing angle,” Keery said.
Along with the improved viewability, the system includes new advisory vertical approach capability, LED mode-select lights on the autopilot controller, flashing messages synchronized between displays, clear on-screen presentation of the helicopter terrain awareness and warning system (H-TAWS), LED-based night vision goggle compatibility, sealed enclosure with passive cooling, and seamless interface with other avionics.
One of the more notable enhancements of the Badger Pro+ system is its video capabilities, including inputs for FLIR and other camera types. The displays accept four video formats, including analog and high-definition inputs, and have full and split-screen modes with pan, zoom, and rotation capabilities.
As for maintainability, Badger Pro+ offers greater than 25,000-flight-hour mean time between failure and comes with built-in flight-data monitoring that can provide download rates that are 20 times faster than previous products. The system provides a weight savings of 2.7 pounds per display.
While some features in the Badger Pro+ were developed in concert with and specifically for the Bell suite, other display enhancements already have been folded into Astronautics products designated for other platforms and future developments, Keery said.
This is part of an effort by Astronautics to continually enhance its products and expand its lines, said company president Chad Cundiff. In the last several years, Astronautics has invested strategically in reinvigorating and expanding its product lines, and as a result, many of those programs are coming to fruition, including the Bell programs, Cundiff noted.
Another such program that is now reaching the market is its AFI4700 RoadRunner drop-in replacement electronic flight instrument. RoadRunner won U.S. FAA TSO and STC on its initial platforms, the Leonardo A109/119, last spring. Since then, Astronautics has obtained European Union Aviation Safety Agency and Brazilian ANAC nods for the Leonardo models, with other approvals in the works.
“This is the first time, at HAI, that somebody can come to our booth and say, 'I want one,' and we can cut an order and have it delivered to them,” Keery said.
Designed as a lower-cost, easy-to-install replacement for legacy attitude director and horizontal situation indicators, RoadRunner provides the functionality of modern electronic flight instrument systems, such as enabling LPV approaches and display of H-TAWS, synthetic vision, weather, and other information.
As the units begin to enter the field, the upgrade is receiving strong interest. It is already capturing about 40 percent of the A109 market in the U.S. and is starting to reach into the markets where the helicopter is most prevalent, such as South America and Europe.
Work also has been underway to install RoadRunner as part of the UH-60L Firehawk upgrade that Arista Aviation has undertaken for the Santa Barbara County (California) Fire Department.
Next up is an STC on the Bell 212 and 412. Astronautics, in partnership with Rotorcraft Services Group (RSG), has completed its submission for the STC and is anticipating approval shortly. RSG is an authorized dealer, installer, and PMA kit provider for the RoadRunner retrofits.
Meanwhile, in line with its vision to continually build on its product lines, Astronautics already is rolling out its next round of upgrades for RoadRunner. The first was implemented last fall, and now the company is improving integrations with H-60 platforms, as well as enabling support for military functions such as tactical air navigation systems (TACAN).
As a smaller company, yet one with high capabilities, Cundiff said, Astronautics has the flexibility to move forward on some of these upgrades more swiftly than a larger company typically could. “It’s hard to find a good retrofit program that can address TACAN, for instance,” he said. “We're able to add those enhancement packages to the RoadRunner.”
A third upgrade is already in the works, he added. “It's just about listening, seeing what the customers like about the product, and trying to make sure that we build on that.”
Another product family coming to fruition was unveiled last spring—the Ibex “semi-smart” display designed for special-missions operations, which may require the ruggedness of a system that can withstand wide temperature swings and high altitude but may not need all of the processing capability. Astronautics already has the first customer for that family and has begun to field the initial units.
As it builds out its product lines, the company has moved into a new headquarters in Milwaukee. The Oak Creek facility will enable the company to better align its teams and more efficiently use its space. Administrative, engineering, and other staff moved to the new facility just this month, and production and MRO operations are expected to follow over the next 18 months or so.