Honeywell plans to unveil a package of improvements to its Sky Connect satcom tracking and communications system and an improved demonstration of its Aspire 200 satcom connectivity system at 2020 Heli-Expo. It also will use the show to unveil avionics improvements for Leonardo’s AW139 twin-engine intermediate helicopter.
Officials from the Phoenix-based manufacturer told AIN that the company has made “critical upgrades” and enhancements to its Sky Connect system that are based on legacy Iridium satellites using low-bandwidth communications and tracking services. “So it’s not using any new capabilities of the new satellites,” said Iain Ronis, who manages the Sky Connect product line.
The first enhancement to Sky Connect hardware shipping now is the addition of the Iridium push-to-talk service, which allows a helicopter or fleet of them to do push-to-talk voice communication just like with a VHF radio but over satellite, Ronis said.
“There’s no requirement to be in visual line-of-sight like you need to have with a VHF radio,” he said. “So you get the benefits of push-to-talk—one-to-many communications—[that is] far less expensive than the typical Iridium telephony phone call, which is just one-to-one [communications].”
“So it’s a great enhancement to fleet operations where you would like to facilitate that ease of conversation between aircraft as well as with ground operations,” Ronis added.
Helicopter EMS (HEMS) operator Air Methods is the launch customer for push-to-talk, he said, and is planning to adopt push-to-talk as it upgrades its fleet of nearly 360 helicopters over the next few years.
In conjunction with push-to-talk is a new interface for the cockpit that Honeywell is calling MCT (mission communications terminal), a controller that is a lightweight front-end module. “So it provides push-to-talk service as well as two-way text messaging in a very compact device,” Ronis explained.
Honeywell also has upgraded the Sky Connect system to allow for offloading recorded flight data through a cellular network connection, which should save operators money from having someone go out to the helicopter, connect a cable and download the data after a flight. “So it’s faster and cheaper,” he said.
The final enhancement to Sky Connect is the addition of push-to-talk service to Honeywell’s existing MMU-II controller, which “has been in service for nearly a decade, but we’ve now added push-to-talk support for that so customers can upgrade their satcom terminal…without having to change their front-end cockpit controller,” Ronis added.
While Honeywell's Aspire 200 system is not new, the company is bringing an improved demonstration of it to Anaheim. The system is an Inmarsat-based connectivity solution using Inmarsat L-band satellites and Swift broadband service that is capable of transmitting real-time video from a helicopter to the ground. “This year we’re taking real field data from one of our helicopters with the Aspire 200 installed and we’re putting it into a canned demonstration that shows the video transmitted over the satellite,” said Mark Goodman, who manages the Aspire product line.
Goodman noted that the goal of Aspire 200 is to provide high data-rate connectivity to commercial and military helicopters. It’s ideal for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions—and that’s where a lot of the interest has been—but it’s also useful for oil-and-gas, inspections, law enforcement, and HEMS operations, Goodman added. The Aspire 200 is capable of providing connectivity at rates of up to about 600 kilobytes per second, he said.
Honeywell also will use the show to unveil some of the features of its Epic 2.0 Phase 8 avionics upgrades to Italian helicopter OEM Leonardo’s AW139 intermediate twin. Jason Bialek, a product-line director for integrated flight decks at Honeywell, told AIN the upgrades include a track-based synthetic-vision system that is usable down to the hover. “So when very dynamic maneuvering happens, it does reverse the heading base, but generally speaking you never lose sight of the target or the flight path,” he explained. Included in the upgrades are better maps and improved capabilities for custom approaches. “So even for steep approaches up to nine degrees, which are unique to helicopter operations, you're still not losing sight of that flight-path sector and your landing zone,” he said, adding that that’s ideal for oil-and-gas operations.
Flight testing with Leonardo has been completed and European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification of the upgrades is expected in the second quarter of 2020.