Services

The Vision for Avionics

By By R&WI Staff | September 1, 2015



Modern avionics like the Garmin G1000H flight deck in Bell Helicopter’s 407GXP are designed to provide a pilot with critical flight information at a glance for greater situational awareness and safety.
Modern avionics like the Garmin G1000H flight deck in Bell Helicopter’s 407GXP are designed to provide a pilot with critical flight information at a glance for greater situational awareness and safety. Photo courtesy of Bell

The desire for safety enhancements and consumer electronics-like capabilities in aircraft is what will drive helicopter owners and operators to buy new avionics in the near future, according to industry leaders.

Another driver will be the need to meet the new-equipment mandates in the United States in the next two to four years, such as the ones for flight data monitoring, terrain-awareness systems and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.

“Situational awareness is really the key,” said John Uczekaj, president and CEO of Albuquerque, N.M.-based Aspen Avionics. “Any kind of features and functions that improve situational awareness for a helicopter pilot is the biggest deal.”

In June, Aspen said it had received an EASA supplemental type certificate (STC) for installation of its Evolution Flight Display System EFD1000H primary flight display (PFD) in Bell and Bell/Agusta 206 models.

The lightweight and compact form factor of Aspen’s helicopter PFD system is a perfect fit for the Bell 206 and other small Part-27 helicopters, Uczekaj said. The EFD1000H PFD is a solid-state electronic flight instrument system that provides a modern alternative to mechanical attitude indicators, directional gyros and horizontal situation indicators.

“Situational awareness” can be defined broadly, ranging from advanced synthetic or enhanced vision systems to helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems now mandated in the United States and stability augmentation systems for Part-27 helicopters.

On the cutting edge of vision systems, SAE International has been working for several years with engineers and other industry representatives to develop standards for a sensor-fusion system (see the sidebar “Enhancing Vision”).

Such a capability might appeal to the U.S. Army. That service is searching for contractors interested in working on a four-year project (starting in the next couple of months) to develop and demonstrate a multi-spectral sensor to help its helicopter pilots fly safely in degraded visual environments.

The form factor of Aspen Avionics’ products is well suited for smaller Part-27 helicopters.
The form factor of Aspen Avionics’ products is well suited for smaller Part-27 helicopters. The company is moving quickly to help operators meet equipment mandates like that for ADS-B Out installation. Photo courtesy of Aspen Avionics

The service seeks sources capable of crafting an integrated system that fuses a “forward-looking sensor suite” with “a distributed aperture system” to provide “spherical coverage for situational awareness” through “a seamless, head-tracked image” that Army aviators could use to fly safely through such conditions as brownout, fog, smoke and rain. Such a capability has been an Army Aviation concern since the service began losing helicopters and troops to accidents in brownout conditions in the dusty regions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To aid both military and civilian pilots and their safety in degraded visual environments, Airbus Helicopters’ Defence and Space unit has conducted flights of a new system called Sferion to demonstrate its capabilities.

In addition to degraded environments, Sferion is intended to protect pilots from obstacles, and while they are operating on unknown surfaces and complex navigation environments or ones with short pre-planning times.

On the other end of the spectrum, Portland, Ore.-based Astronics Max-Viz is pursuing an STC for its Max-Viz 1400 Enhanced Vision System, which is targeted at helicopters and general aviation airplanes. The system uses an infrared camera to create a 640-by-480-pixel-resolution image of the world ahead of the aircraft.

When the company offered its first model in 2003, high-end systems for business jets (coupled with a head-up display) cost nearly $1 million each. But such systems have become less expensive and therefore more accessible to pilots of smaller, less pricey aircraft (though those systems may have lower resolutions).

Another situational awareness aid—in the sense it can get a pilot out of trouble—is the stability augmentation system, versions of which are becoming available for smaller and less expensive helicopters.

Robinson Helicopter is working with multiple avionics vendors to give its customers greater functionality and situational awareness aloft.
Robinson Helicopter is working with multiple avionics vendors to give its customers greater functionality and situational awareness aloft. Photo courtesy of Robinson

On Aug. 17, for instance, Genesys Aerosystems said it had received an EASA STC for installation of its HeliSAS stability augmentation system and autopilot on the Eurocopter EC130 T2 (H130). The Mineral Wells, Texas-based company had received an FAA STC for that installation in September 2014. The company is pushing to expand its market for the HeliSAS, which already is certified for installation on the EC130 and AS350 series, the Bell Helicopter 206B, 206L and 407, and the Robinson Helicopter R44.

Genesys also applied for an FAA STC to retrofit the HeliSAS on Robinson’s turbine R66.

The company already has partnered with Robinson “to offer the benefits of HeliSAS on factory-new helicopters,” said Genesys Director of Sales Jamie Luster. “We want to extend the enhanced capabilities” to current R66 owners. “The stability augmentation is ideal for the light weight Robinson platform, and decreases the workload significantly.”

That OEM is keen to add such enhancements to its aircraft. “I think that is where the helicopter market is headed,” said President Kurt Robinson.

Genesys said its system enables automatic recovery to near-level flight attitude at all airspeeds and will engage throughout all phases of flight from startup to shutdown. The company said the system has complete two-axis autopilot functionality.

At June’s Paris Air Show, Airbus, Vector Aerospace and Rockwell Collins said they will jointly develop and market the Pro Line Fusion avionics line for the OEM’s aircraft, starting with the AS332/532 MK1.

Pro Line Fusion includes mission-specific helicopter operational profiles for offshore platform approaches, hover in place, extended search and rescue patterns and other critical capabilities. The line combines large, high-resolution displays with touch-screen operations, and keypad and cursor controls.

Need To Know: OEMs and suppliers are keen to bring low-cost avionics to smaller helicopters.Increasing computing power will make greater capabilities available to rotorcraft. Operators, both civil and military, seek to improve their pilots’ situational awareness, and OEMs and suppliers are pursuing solutions.


Enhancing Pilot Vision

Industry officials working with SAE International on standards for a more powerful enhanced vision system have been briefing the concept at industry gatherings.

The helmet-based concept would go beyond individual sensor systems such as night-vision goggles or aircraft-mounted synthetic vision. Rather, it would mesh inputs from multiple sensors into a real-time, wide-field-of-view synthetic vision that would enable the pilot to “see” outside the cockpit in degraded visual environments such as fog, snow, dust and clouds.

Proponents claim such an enhanced synthetic vision system might enable a pilot to look through the aircraft floor at the surface below.

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