Bell 429 cockpit. Photo by Frank Lombardi
Bell 429, 412EPI and 412EPX helicopters are set to get new cockpit displays, upsetting a near-decade relationship with previous outfitter Rogerson Kratos, which is claiming the manufacturer is breaching its contract and misappropriating trade secrets.
The new system will be supplied by Astronautics Corporation of America and is an evolution from its Badger II product. Bell reportedly has certified the system, according to an industry source.
Rogerson subsequently filed a lawsuit against Bell on grounds that the manufacturer has given up some of Rogerson’s trade secrets by seeking out a new supplier.
The source told R&WI the system will fit in the same instrument panel mounting and significantly improve the original Rogerson system, which was first certified on the Bell 429 in 2009 and later on the 412EPI. The new system can be retrofitted into existing 429s and 412EPIs, the source said.
Bell confirmed it is in litigation with Rogerson regarding the cockpit displays and is therefore unable to comment.
The two companies have “entered into various confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements to protect their respective trade secrets, and they agreed to jointly own their jointly developed confidential and proprietary designs,” the complaint filed Dec. 12, 2017, in the District Court of Tarrant County, Texas, said. “Rogerson and Bell agreed that they would jointly hold the exclusive rights to design, manufacture, reproduce, use and sell products that incorporate, in whole or in part, their jointly owned confidential and proprietary designs.”
The lawsuit claims Bell is sourcing “lower-cost avionics from a third party that will incorporate Rogerson’s trade secrets” without Rogerson’s consent or compensation. The lawsuit outlines seven counts, including breach of contract and unfair competition.
The company is seeking that Bell be made to stop all use of the avionics that incorporate Rogerson’s trade secrets as well as damages and attorneys fees, amounting to more than $100 million.
Bell has yet to publicly address the system replacement on the aircraft models. The manufacturer’s technical publication in late July sent an update — obtained by R&WI — announcing the FAA-approved flight manual supplement for the 412EPI retrofit. That update identified Astronautics as the new supplier, but Bell reportedly pulled the supplement from its website soon after it had been sent.
The FAA lists a Jan. 24 technical standard order (TSO) granted to Astronautics for three variants of "airborne multipurpose electronic displays." The variants include a display unit, a course/heading select panel (CHSP) and a course/heading/flight director panel (CHFD). The former is unique to the 412EPI while the latter is unique to the 429, R&WI's source said.
Astronautics declined to comment.
The Rogerson cockpit display system features four high-resolution displays with advanced graphics capabilities with multiple video inputs and is compatible with night-vision goggles.
R&WI reached out to Rogerson Aircraft Corporation and Rogerson’s attorneys for comment.