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Panel Updates: The Digital Evolution

According to a renowned dog trainer on a famous television show- you can teach an old dog new tricks. In this fellow’s case- changing any canine’s behavior depends on understanding its perspective and acting toward it accordingly. The humans have to adapt their behavior to be fit the dog.

In corporate aviation- we arguably have a similar phenomenon working for older business aircraft. New systems in use by ATC- new information options- fall outside the capabilities of these old birds – even ones with glass panels considered the modern- state-of-the-art just a decade ago. To use these new systems and technologies- those old airplanes need to learn new tricks.

Rather than employing airframe psychology- though- the craft needs something more akin to surgery- a panel facelift that goes beyond merely adding graphic displays. Throwing in a GPS to drive an MFD (Multifunction Display) and nothing more- one avionics shop manager told World Aircraft Sales Magazine- is “the functional of a ‘cosmetic enhancement’ – a flying facelift. Sure- it helps the pilot’s situational awareness to be able to see the plane over a terrain map- but with nothing more- you get- at best- the ability to file Slash Golf (for IFR GPS equipped) and you get to fly GPS versions of a lot of non-precision approaches - ‘big whoop’.” Today- he explained- you want something that offers up the newest cockpit technologies that take advantage of some acronyms new and already in use- with an eye toward adding yet more over the next few years as even more changes arrive.

The ability to vastly improve both the capability and reliability of an old plane’s panel helps keep viable thousands of older business jets and propjets – particularly those for which engine upgrades are possible- but even for those which must soldier on with their original engine types which remain economically viable.

We’re going to examine some of the many desirable options available for modernizing older panels and some of the technologies attracting operators to bite the bullet and add some new tricks. First- through- we’ll take a look at some of those new tricks.

It’s an Alphabet
Jungle Up There…

WAAS; ADS-B; SVS; EVS; LPV; RNP. Or- AHRS; ADARHS; PFD: Get used to them all - they’re not only going to be around for a long time- some are destined to supplant our familiar-and-comfy relationship with some other- older- sets of initials: RADAR; VOR; DME; NDB. While some in the new group may have been around a while- not all are always deeply understood for their significance and promise. So here’s where we stand.

WAAS: Precision
Guidance Enhanced

The Wide Area Augmentation System is now on line- operational and delivering on its long-promised utility – at least- to those equipped to use the GPS technology. WAAS essentially provides a separate GPS constant for correcting the cruder signal GPS receivers used to calculate position and altitude.

Accuracies of WAAS-enabled GPS improves accuracy to about three meters from about 30 in lateral position calculation and about five meters in altitude. The WAAS system employs about 25 ground stations scattered around the continental U.S. to sample the satellites’ signals and relay the data to two master stations on the ground on opposite coasts. These master stations- in turn- generate a signal that corrects for satellite orbit signal and clock drift and errors from atmospheric interference before up-linking the correction to one of two dedicated satellites in geosynchronous orbits above the equator that provides coverage to all of North America.

The correction signal is picked up and applied by the individual WAAS-enabled GPS receivers in the aircraft. No special equipment is needed beyond the WAAS-enabled navigation receiver. So good is the latest incarnation of WAAS that the signal supports instrument approaches approaching the accuracy of the gold-standard- airport-based ILS.

Several manufacturers have added WAAS-certified GPS engines to their products to allow users to take advantage of this improved accuracy. Yet- how does the improved accuracy do more than improve our en-route navigation accuracy? Read on...

LPV Approaches
Here’s another new- not-necessarily-well-understood acronym with some great utility. Lateral Precision with Vertical guidance- or LPV- is a new category of instrument approach that uses the accuracy of WAAS for the lateral navigation and provides vertical guidance.

In practical terms- the LPV approach looks almost exactly like an ILS approach from the pilot’s perspective. The lateral accuracy provides a precise alignment with the runway centerline just like the Localizer signal (remember that three meter accuracy) and the vertical guidance aspect serves as the glideslope indicator to provide a smooth descent to touchdown.

There’s beauty in the WAAS LPV system beyond the added approach capability- in that no ground-based system is needed in the way one ILS must be installed for each runway end needing full precision-approach capabilities.

While all LPV approaches require WAAS- not all WAAS receivers are capable of LPV approaches- however. The WAAS avionics must be approved for use in LPV approaches. The FAA has added hundreds of LPV approaches to its procedures and the system is due to roll out to thousands more airports – a major boon to those unlikely to ever qualify for an ILS.

Garmin’s cutting-edge G1000 system supports WAAS- as does Universal Avionics’ new W-series flight-management system approved last year by the FAA. More manufacturers are following suit- including L3 with its new Smart Deck system. Indeed- it won’t be long before any aircraft owner considering upgrading the company plane will settle for nothing less than the latest WAAS capabilities for the GPS navigator.

ADS-B: You see me- I see you…
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast- or ADS-B is admittedly a little bit farther out on the horizon in terms of available options and the benefits promised- but make no mistake: updating today should at least consider inclusion of ADS-B- the system the FAA plans to use as the foundation technology for its Next Generation Air Traffic Control system.

Once again- we’re looking at a technology made possible by GPS. In essence- ADS-B Out hardware takes an aircraft’s position- speed- altitude and direction of flight from an on-board GPS navigator and several hundred times each minute broadcasts the data out to anyone with the hardware to receive the signal- known as ADS-B In. The signal is also picked up by a network of ground stations – some already installed and functional- and over 200 more coming in the next few years. Those ground stations route the data to ATC- where controllers see the ADS-B Out aircraft on a display screen just as they do with Radar- but with one caveat: Radar is not a part of the system.

A pending Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FAA published last October would require ADS-B Out for access to Class B- Class C and Class D airspace – a requirement expected to expand as the agency moves away from a radar-based control architecture for the entire system.

Savings for the FAA are to come from decommission radar stations and the VOR and NDB navigation stations serving both the en-route and terminal services provided today. So planning a panel upgrade these days would be short-sighted without including ADS-B as part of the hardware.

Benefits to the crew flying an ADS-B-equipped aircraft include the ability to see in real time all the traffic within about 150 miles at the same time as controllers – adding to traffic awareness in a way on-board collision-avoidance systems cannot. ADS-B also serves as the delivery system for other services- including live weather images- text weather- NOTAMs and TFR information.

SVS: Can you see what I see?
Just as precise GPS position data combined with a high-detail terrain database revolutionized the accuracy and availability of ground proximity warning hardware- SVS takes the same idea to a different level. But instead of simply calling out threats like a ground proximity warning system does- SVS provides a computer-generated view of the world ahead- thanks to even more detailed terrain maps and GPS position data.

These 3D images are displayed on a Primary Flight Display that portrays what you’d see looking out the windshield – regardless of whether you can see beyond the nose.

EVS: I can see clearly- now
Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS) employ a variety of infrared sensors to generate a view of the world ahead- through clouds- in the dark. Temperature differences are what the sensors actually pick up. With images displayed on a variety of cockpit and heads-up displays- EVS makes runway markers stand out in the dark because the paint radiates heat differently than unpainted pavement.

The benefits are paramount when maneuvering near high terrain- ground-based obstacles and on approach in dark or obstructed conditions. Some of the newer systems can even work in daylight allowing pilots to see through some types of obscurations.

Some Upgrade
Systems to Consider

Several upgrade packages have emerged in the last year for the oft-maligned older aircraft - those with latent utility and economic strength but laden with old-style steam gauges and gyros. Following are a few worth consideration.

The Alliant
Integrated Flight Deck
The product of a partnership between Avidyne Corp. and S-Tec- the Alliant Integrated Flight Deck- recently won FAA certification for retrofit into the still-popular Cessna Conquest II- also known as the 441 – a follow-on approval for the companies’ prior wins for Alliant in the Beechcraft King Air 90 and 200 series.

The Alliant package consists of a pair of Avidyne EXP5000 PFDs measuring 10.4 inches each- an Avidyne EX500 MFD and S-Tec’s IntelliFlight 2100 digital autopilot- plus stand-by instruments and interfaces for most terrain- traffic- lightning and on-board weather radar and radar-altimeter systems.

Avidyne’s CMax electronic charts are also standard- as is the ability to add the optional MLB700 datalink hardware to receive WSI In-Flight weather from SIRIUS satellite radio. Avidyne’s TAS 600 Traffic Advisory System is another available option.

More information from www.avidyne.com

Executive Beech’s G1000 Retrofit
Working with Garmin International- Kansas City-based Executive Beechcraft won approval for the first authorized and approved retrofit of the cutting edge G1000 integrated panel in a King Air C90.

Already popular as available equipment on everything from Cessna piston singles to the Citation Mustang and recently the TBM 850- the G1000 combines leading-edge PFD and MFD graphic displays with integrated tuning and control of everything from the GPS to the conventional VHF comm. and nav radios. Opening up the G1000 to retrofit and winning this first-ever G1000 STC is Garmin’s latest move to answer demand for the massively capable system.

More information from www.executivebeechcraft.com or www.garmin.com

Max-Viz STC for Citation EVS
Late last year Max-Viz announced the award of an FAA STC to install its synthetic vision systems in Cessna Citation models ranging from the early 500 through the more contemporary 560XL- setting the stage for the possible use of the system in hundreds of the light jets.

According to Max-Viz- the images captured by the sensor can be shown on a variety of cockpit displays- including the flat-panel screens from Innovative Solutions & Support selected by Cessna for its own Citation upgrade program.

More information from www.max-viz.com or www.cessna.com

Landmark STCs IFIS for Hawker 800XP/850XP
Landmark Aviation won an STC to install Rockwell Collins’ Integrated Flight Information System- (IFIS)- in the Hawker Beechcraft 800XP and 850XP jets. The IFIS system- single-server or dual- provides flight crews with electronic access to charts- approach plates- airport diagrams and NOTAMS- as well as providing a platform to receive WxWeather from the XM Satellite Radio system. The dual-server set-up allows the flight crew to operate without paper charts and plates and without an EFB.

Rockwell’s Pro Line 21
IDS for the Falcon 50 In addition Rockwell Collins’ popular Pro Line 21 Integrated Display System (IDS)- has long been a fixture in business aviation- and work last year resulted in a new STC to install the hardware in the stalwart Falcon 50 business jet – and open up access to the STC to its dealer network. The Pro Line 21 IDS transforms the old panel with LCD displays- TCAS- TAWS- FMS and communications systems in aircraft in which it’s installed.

Indeed- the list of aircraft eligible for the Pro Line 21 IDS is growing. Rockwell Collins already holds approvals for the Hawker 800A and Piaggio Avanti- and several other jets.

Rockwell Collins is also working with Duncan Aviation on STC for the Pro Line 21 to replace older Pro Line 4 systems in Falcon 2000 and Falcon 50EX airframes. And the FAA is using the Pro Line 21 to upgrade its fleet of 18 King Air 300 propjets used in flight-inspection service- which makes that another airframe for which an all-electric upgrade should be available.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com- www.duncanaviation.com or www.landmarkaviation.com

EFIS/SVS for the GIII and Lear 25
Last year saw the first installation of Universal Avionics’ EFI-890R EFIS system in a Gulfstream III. The upgrade brings four eight-by-nine-inch color displays as well as capability for the Vision 1 SVS. The package includes Universal’s terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) and an upgraded flight management system.

Universal already holds an STC for the EFI-890R system as a retrofit in the Learjet 25- which- in addition to the modern displays- includes electronic charts- weather- terrain awareness and warning system and synthetic vision system coupled with traditional flight-director indications. Universal’s EFI-890R is currently the only FAR 25 approved SVS with a retrofit option available.

More information from www.universalavionics.com

Honeywell targets old CRT panels
As many as 5-000 aircraft could be eligible for an upgrade of the old cathode ray tube displays to modern- light and power-efficient liquid crystal displays since Honeywell selected Barco of Belgium to provide the LCDs. This coming upgrade path targets so-called legacy systems in the Honeywell Primus 1000- 2000 and 2000XP- as well as the Sperry/Honeywell SPZ-8400- 8500 and 8000 panels still flying.

The Barco displays’ electronics will allow converted aircraft to benefit from modern advances such as moving maps- electronic charts and plates- ground proximity warning and live weather images from datalink services. And the conversion will save considerable weight and reduce the power demand and heat generated by the old television-type display hardware.

More information from www.honeywell.com or www.barco.com

SVS for the King Air C90 from L-3
L-3 Avionics Systems had a busy 2007- which saw the introduction of the company’s new SmartDeck integrated panel to compete with the Garmin G1000- but the company was also busy with its IRIS synthetic vision system- as well.

The IRIS infrared imaging sensor and related hardware STC’d and PMA’d for the King Air C90 works in daylight and dark to provide an uninterrupted- continuously calibrated grayscale image of terrain- runways- vehicles and people. The STC for the King Air C90 paves the way for approvals for other models and other aircraft.

More information from www.l-3com.com

The Go/No-Go Decision
Shop carefully- and consider the costs and options- the experts say. With some options going for more than a half-million dollars- it isn’t hard to conceive that upgrading a panel could push the aircraft into financially untenable territory. That said- as more of the smaller players join the fray and bring with them lower-cost options- the opportunity to give the cockpit a major facelift for a couple hundred thousand could be just the ticket to extending the practical utility of an older aircraft. Of course- your situation will be unique- and we’ve really only scratched the surface on some of the latest upgrades and the new and coming technologies you might want to consider. But there seems little doubt that thousands of operators consider a panel upgrade an option preferable to replacing the whole airplane.

Keep in mind issues of future compatibility with some of those future systems – such as ADS-B – as well as the option to employ the here-and-now technology like WAAS. There’s no sense leaving options behind when you’ll be forced to need them in a few years.

Your ‘old dog’ will need to learn those new tricks – there’s really no way around that - but to spend on an upgrade or spend more on another airplane? That choice is up to you- the options are many. Shop well and shop wisely.


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