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Evolutionary avionics advances offer interim upgrades when full refurbishment isn’t needed

Much of the value represented by contemporary business aircraft stems from an inherent ability to upgrade the bird to keep it modern and functional. The flexibility of modernizing serves as a major asset at a time when so many products seem designed only to serve until the end of their depreciation cycle.

Upgrading effectively serves to restore value to an expensive asset and greatly delay its obsolescence for years beyond that of the equipment replaced.

Nowhere is this trait more evident than in the options available to incrementally upgrade a flight deck with new advances. Powerplant upgrades seldom come as ala’ Carte items; cabin and paint improvements usually involve a total makeover of the interior and exterior.

Panel upgrades- however- can come in the form of a total-replacement project or- more often- as incremental improvements – enhancements that can add needed capability or expand existing abilities.

For some aircraft and some operators- the best approach involves that full-cockpit overhaul that results in a modern- state-of-the-art solid-state panel in place of the original collection of dials- gauges- instruments and gyros.

For many others in many other circumstances- the most-sensible upgrade involves installing equipment to enhance what already exists – or adding some individual capability not necessarily inherent in even some of the new-fangled flight-deck equipment.

It’s on this latter category we’re focusing this month – a look at several desirable upgrades that operators can accomplish without a full-cockpit upgrade.

The capabilities provided and needs met varies- with some required by regulatory fiat. In some instances- the equipment is available now; in others- the equipment is on the horizon and expected to win approval this year.

But regardless of the extent- such improvements almost always help widen safety margins or improve the effectiveness of the time folks spend in back.

Coming soon...
For some this news may not be welcome; for others- nothing would make them happier. It now appears that sometime later this year Honeywell will offer business aircraft operators a new-technology system designed to work with your cell phone so you can make and take calls in-flight.

The system completed its initial series of flight tests in October- proving that the technology works aloft without interfering with on-board navigation systems or interfering with the ground-based network of cell phone relays.

Basically- Honeywell’s system serves as a relay for our cell phones that first electronically messages the phone to dial down its power- and then links the airborne passenger’s phone to the ground network via the Inmarsat satellite communications system. The phone user’s regular call-plan account gets the billings- which means users don’t have to haul out a credit card to make a call or explain phone charges on the bill for a charter flight.

Other electronics companies are busy working on similar systems- but Honeywell’s appears closest to getting into the air. First though- the company needs regulatory approval – and a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) existing prohibitions on in-flight use of ground-system cell phones.

Interestingly- the FCC in mid-December started considering a change in those rules for commercial flights and conducting tests to ascertain that the low power of digital cell phones can’t interfere with any aircraft systems. No one that we know- however- is testing whether busy executives will be happy that they soon can’t even count on the FCC’s current prohibition for some time away from the phone when travelling in the company plane.

Flight tracking goes 21st century
The folks at Blue Sky Network offer something a little different in communications with a system as much for the folks back home as for talking to the office. It’s called Flight Tracking- and BSN’s system offers the folks at home a way to keep a visual wherever in the world the plane flies.

The STC’d and PMA’d D1000 flight-tracking system allows the folks back at the office to see aircraft location- speed and direction- via a link to the Iridium communications satellite network – which brings users an added benefit.

Anyone with internet access – and the right password – can communicate directly with a D1000-equiped aircraft using a text-messaging system. No routing through a third party or depending on a dispatch connection – just log on to www.skyrouter.com- upload the message and wait for a reply.

The D1000 hardware consists of a GPS receiver- a combination GPS/Iridium antenna- and a cockpit display with a 'quick position' button for transmitting position reports. The D1000 system can also be upgraded with a dual-channel antenna to allow simultaneous use of data and voice communications.

Allowing pilots to boldly see where no one could see before. Almost 15 years ago- most of our viewings of synthetic vision came from seeing video from the first Gulf War – those grainy gray scenes of bridges and buildings being attacked on a black-and-white screen.

Those systems were at a price point that only a Defense Department accountant could handle- and the technology often large- unwieldy and tough to maintain. However- in the past five years or so- several new incarnations of synthetic vision hardware have come along using hardware that is less costly- smaller and nearly maintenance free.

It is that hardware that has spawned what may be the ultimate safety enhancement for the pilot: the Enhanced Vision System- or EVS.

Several manufacturers – pioneer Gulfstream and Bombardier among them – already offer some or all of their aircraft with some version of synthetic-vision system- or SVS for short. Indeed- non-aircraft makers have developed systems of their own too.

These systems are generically pretty similar. They employ an infrared sensor that differentiates objects on the basis of their heat signature rather than light reflectivity. These compact cameras can be mounted in small fairings on the outside of an aircraft to provide an unobstructed view of the world ahead; some use multiple sensors to give the cockpit crew a wide-angle view.

Regardless- images output from the sensors are displayed either on a heads-up-display (HUD) or a so-called 'heads down' unit such as a multifunction display or other form of LCD. Those images effectively give pilots a clear view in the darkness and through clouds and fog – illuminating runways and runway markers- obstacles and terrain.

As a pilot- nothing holds more promise for a safe arrival than the ability to find the runway and avoid terrain where human eyes see nothing.

The FAA recognized the benefits of that ability with a recent change to Part 91 allowing pilots to use 'enhanced flight visibility systems' to determine flight visibility during instrument approaches down to 100 feet above the runway – while hand-flying.

One of the independent leaders in this technology is Max-Viz. This Canadian firm’s EVS-1000 system offers high value at a hardware price of about $150-000. Installation needs only about a week. The EVS-1000 also offers flexibility- able to play on a stand-alone 6.4-inch LCD mounted on the co-pilot’s half of the panel or- alternately- on a Honeywell CD-820 Flight Management System CDU.

Certifications completed or pending soon cover the Challenger 601/604- the Falcon 50 and 900 series- the GIV and GIV-SP- the Learjet 35 business jet; the Beech Super King Air 200 and Pilatus PC-12 turboprops; and three corporate helicopters- Bell’s 212 and 412- and Sikorsky’s S-76.

The Global Express and Challenger lines are in line to benefit from Bombardier’s work to certify a HUD-displayed EVS system made by sensor-supplier CMC Electronics and HUD provider Thales. Joint U.S.-Canada approval of this system is expected this quarter- with Europe anticipated shortly afterward.

Gulfstream offers its Kollsman-based EVS to owners and operators of GIVs outfitted with Honeywell SPZ 8000 avionics. An amendment to an earlier STC Gulfstream holds opened up installation of the system in about 500 jets in the GIV/GIV-SP fleet at a cost of about $500-000 for the needed hardware.

Gulfstream won approval for the first business jet EVS installation in 2001 and the number of installations is approaching 100. The company also supplies its EVS as standard on both the G450 and G550 models. The EVS system is available for installation in the G300- G400- G500 and its predecessor- the GV.

In a different turn of the technological potential of EVS- chart-and-plate maker Jeppesen is conducting flight tests of SVS delivered in tandem with navigation displays in a way that would obviate the need for paper products or accessory Electronic Flight Bag displays. For this advance- you may need to wait a while- but chances are Jeppesen’s system will work with any SVS.

TAWS and EGPWS: They share a common goal to keep pilots away from any ground not designated as a runway. Systems like Honeywell’s Enhanced Ground Proximity and Warning System take into account speed- direction of flight and altitude to look ahead and around the plane for dangerous terrain or obstructions. If there’s a runway ahead- EGPWS simply alerts the pilots to their altitude during the final few hundred feet of a descent.

However- sometimes pilots could use a system that alerts them to the presence of a runway ahead as they taxi for takeoff or toward the FBO. After all- a runway incursion can be every bit as dangerous as Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)- the very problem EGPWS was created to thwart.

Honeywell’s recently certificated Runway Awareness and Advisory System does just that – without depending on a special ground radar- a controller- or even an added box. Instead- RAAS is available as an enhancement to Honeywell’s existing EGPWS units.

At a cost of $17-389- the software-based upgrade to Honeywell’s EGPWS delivers 10 specific aural alerts created to prevent incursions onto runways and taxiways.

Using an airport database integral to the EGPWS- Honeywell’s RAAS upgrade warns pilots when approaching a runway whether airborne or on the ground – as well as when lined up on a runway for takeoff or taxi; when the available runway is too short; when beginning a takeoff from a taxiway; or after sitting on a runway for too long.

To further aid maneuvering on the ground in poor visibility- RAAS annunciates runway distance remaining during rejected takeoffs or when landing long.

Avionics installers tell us that RAAS is this year’s hot item for upgrade among business jet operators - and already Cessna has revealed that the system will be an option on most EGPWS-equipped Citations. Cessna recently announced certification of RAAS in the Citation Bravo- Encore- Excel and X. Installation is available through any Cessna Citation Service Center.

Coppin’ an Attitude
Nothing feels worse when flying in the soup than discovering that a gyro instrument – any gyro instrument – no longer runs- be it a failure of the device or a loss of power. In most modern business aircraft- discovery of a loss of power means many other things also lack the energy needed to keep going.

Failure of an attitude indicator may be the worst- prompting the installation of stand-by indicators as a hedge against the instrument going bad. But what about losing both the primary and power? That’s not double trouble; that’s crisis squared.

Wichita-based Mid-Continent Instruments designed its 4300 series electric attitude indicator to serve as a stand-alone – it is a full-size attitude indicator – or stand-by AI capable of continuing to function sans electricity.

This clever system sports an unusual lead-acid battery backup able to power the gyro for as much as 60 minutes should ship’s power fail. Great as a primary- but doubly useful in a stand-by instrument backing up a suction-powered instrument. After all- as a stand-by gyro the 4300 offers double redundancy through its battery.

An amber annunciator light blinks to tell the pilot it’s time to switch the AI to battery power within 60 seconds – a feature created so the battery pack can’t discharge should someone forget to turn off the aircraft’s electrical-system master. Mid-Continent also offers internal emergency lighting as an option.

When not needed- the 4300’s battery automatically stays charged off the aircraft electrics.

A battery-test function lets you check the charge and the backup battery should be replaced every three years – or any time the test reveals a low reading.

The gyro is long-life – its 7-500-hour meantime between failure makes it particularly suitable as a primary AI – and the unit is certified under TSO-C4c. Compared to many back-up electrically-powered attitude gyros – with five-figure price tags – the 4300 is a steal at $4-450- including the battery pack.

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