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Honeywell’s Primus Apex
A Primus Epic-like Advance for Lighter Craft.

There’s a reason why competition is often so good for the market. While one company may turn one way- another may see a different direction as both work their way to offer pilots products they can use.

Witness Honeywell’s general aviation division. When some expect everybody to go one way- they still keep progressing with one good idea after another- but in their own direction. Case in point: A decade ago- many flying at the lighter end of business aviation were enamored with a pair of all-in-one navigator/communicator boxes dominated by a rudimentary graphic display created elsewhere in the ancestral home of Bendix/King- Olathe- Kansas.

As this frenzy reached a peak- Allied-Signal- Bendix/King’s former parent- became a part of Honeywell and pilot fans of the Bendix/King brand saw a new approach to cockpit needs that was not the company chasing after its cross-town competitor. The result was a pair of large-screen- full-color multifunction displays designed to integrate with stand-alone GPS navigators- but with a host of hazard sensors. These packages- built around the KMD 550 and KMD 850 MFDs- became known as the IHAS 5000 and IHAS 8000.

IHAS means ‘Integrated Hazard Awareness System’. The IHAS package gave pilots a new one-screen view of traffic- weather- lightning- terrain and- in the case of the KMD 850 and IHAS 8000- color on-board weather radar. Indeed- the KMD in such an IHAS package still served as a large graphical moving map for a GPS navigator. Match the IHAS with the right GPS – such as the highly regarded KLN 90B- KLN 89B and KLN 94 – and the right Bendix/King Nav/Com and you could tune the VHF radios from the GPS and load instrument approaches into the box and monitor the progress with great accuracy on the scalable MFD.

And later- a Bendix/King KMD 250 came along for lighter aircraft with less panel space with the added benefit of having all the integration circuitry for the hazard sensors built into the display.

Nothing else quite matched this combination of feature sets – particularly the all-hazards capabilities of the KMD line- which made it immensely popular with pilots more interested in their ability to track hazards while watching their flight progress and less concerned with the multiple-box approach.

In the interim- Honeywell launched an ambitious program to reassert its leadership position in light business aircraft avionics with the Apex line unveiled several years ago at an NBAA convention in New Orleans. The goal was to produce an integrated cockpit system that draws on the nest of the IHAS philosophy and Honeywell’s top-of-the-line Primus Epic line of business-turbine cockpit systems.

Though the journey may have taken longer than planned- the results have nonetheless been impressive. Honeywell’s Primus Apex system launched formally at the 2006 NBAA meeting after Honeywell won FAA approval.

Earlier this year- Primus Apex launch customer Pilatus Aircraft recently won its certification for its Next Generation PC-12 propjet single with Primus Apex as the standard panel. And Honeywell has also found takers in Grob for the spn light jet and China’s Harbin Aircraft Corp for the Y12 high-wing utility twin turboprop. According to Honeywell vice president John Todd- a retrofit package should be available next year too.

Already the Bendix/King line features a new retrofit “light” version for the piston and light-twin market- called the Apex Edge series and employing the KFD-840 and KSN-770 – an all-in-one box that leapfrogs the boxes of that cross-town rival. But it is in its full form that the Primus Apex system brings new clarity- detail and capabilities to the light end of the business-turbine market – capabilities that have tended to be features found only on the larger- more-expensive jets in corporate aviation.

The company was awaiting final details on Primus Apex packages for several other planemakers as this went to press. Clearly- Honeywell may have lagged behind in getting the package to this point- but the advantages and advances of the Primus Apex system are sufficiently attractive to win converts and narrow the gap with its competitors. Let’s take a look at Primus Apex in more detail.

An Epic tale
The high degree of acceptance Honeywell enjoyed with its Primus Epic system came about because of the company’s drive to simplify the workload for the typical two-pilot business jet cockpit with an improved- graphically-oriented interface- while also bringing new capabilities- a new level of situational awareness- and the flexibility to add new functions and features without new boxes and more wiring.

In its typical installation in a medium or large business jet- Primus Epic saves hundreds of pounds compared to prior systems. These benefits accrue from the digital backbone of Primus Epic. Now imagine nearly all the same features- benefits and flexibility in a smaller- even-lighter package – a package designed specifically for the single-pilot flight crew more typical of today’s light jets- VLJs- PJs- and propjets both single and twin.

That- Todd explained- was Honeywell’s guiding principal in developing Primus Apex- to bring to the single-pilot cockpit the benefits and advantages of Primus Epic – but in doing so- also make it lighter- simpler and easier to use- just as adapting and more affordable to match the market. Todd explained- “We’ve integrated into Primus Apex avionics systems like we did with Primus Epic.”

In doing so for the lighter end of the business-turbine market- Honeywell managed to incorporate into Primus Apex control of systems usually reserved for the integrated panels of larger aircraft. Landing-gear and environmental controls; and pressurization control are indigenous to Primus Apex.

Since all the traditional avionics are also integrated and were designed as part of the system from the start- control of navigation- communication and surveillance functions are also handled through the Primus Apex interface. Panel-mounted controls are now standard for the avionics- but Todd noted that Honeywell engineers are working on a CCD (cursor-control device) with a track ball to bring point-and-click functionality to the avionics and other systems.

And- again- this idea is a vestige of Primus Epic- where the CCD is part-and-parcel to the system. “It’s a size issue and we’re in the process of scaling it (the CCD) down to fit the smaller cockpit-” Todd explained. Elsewhere in Primus Apex is a host of advances. “There’s a lot of new technology we’re brining into this market segment using advances like MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical sensors)-” Todd detailed. Another highlight of Primus Apex that Todd pointed out is its FMS capabilities. “Primus Apex employs a full-featured FMS software base rather than using a GPS database for flight control similar to Primus Epic-” he explained- “but it’s configured for a single pilot to be able to operate easily and accommodate route changes and other ATC re-routings easily and quickly. The autopilot performance stems from our use of performance standards taken from Primus Epic’s autopilot- but incorporated into this system for smaller aircraft.”

A further element of the Primus Apex package in an OEM installation is an auto-throttle function. “The autothrottle system is integrated with the avionics and autopilot systems to reduce the workload and allow for single-pilot operations-” Todd said. “Auto-land is way off- and frankly for FAR 23 its value and the training demands are such that you can’t make a case for it.”

Honeywell found a valid case for incorporating another element of Primus Epic into the Primus Apex package though. “One of the things we looked at from Primus Epic that seemed to be valuable and available for a Part 23 system is INAV – Interactive Navigation Display that brings terrain- nav- and more- and was developed for Primus Epic onto the MFD-” he explained. “We integrated that into Primus Apex and gave it a crisp- clean display with excellent readability.”

Primus Apex also employs the graphical flight-planning interface indigenous to Primus Epic and patented by Honeywell. “You can do flight planning with point-and-click ease instead of plowing through menus and pushing buttons to enter the plan-” Todd explained.

Other aircraft systems controlled or monitored and displayed on Primus Apex screens is flap indication- control position- pressurization- gear and environmental controls – all are integrated into Primus Apex. EICAS indications are color-coded to help the pilot more easily interpret what the system is telling him. “Our Part 25 customers have understood and enjoyed those benefits and now we can bring those to the FAR 23 aircraft-” Todd added.

A path to grow with
In the past- system upgrades and new features too often involved pulling and replacing boxes- maybe adding a new box- all with the associated complexity of wiring the system to handle the new functions and features. Not with Primus Apex- though.

Todd explained- “Future upgrades can be accomplished through software rather than having to add boxes- wiring and switches. That makes Apex a great growth platform- too. We will have a continued growth path and as functions are added we’ll be able to incorporate them with software updates.”

He added that this upgradeability is yet another mark of the Primus Epic system- which provides another level of assurance to customers of future compatibility. Another element of the Primus Apex system is its certification basis. “Primus Apex is designed to meet the requirements of Part 25-” said Todd. Honeywell employed the higher level of certification required by FAR 25 throughout Primus Apex- with equipment meeting the most-demanding TSOs.

“One of the areas we wanted to focus on was designed-in safety-” Todd noted. “Primus Apex is unique in the FAR 23 systems because it meets the DO-178 standard required for FAR 25 in terms of designed-in safety and the certification of the level of software. Honeywell also worked to the DO-254 standard for hardware certification under FAR 25.

Level A certification of the software – a much-more intense development and a higher standard – serves to show that the system is built to the most-demanding standards for use in aviation’s most-demanding environments. “That’s a benefit to an OEM who can see that it meets the highest standards and offers an inherent design core that’s a step above-” Todd noted.

Primus Apex of tomorrow
After the years of development in systems- software and- most importantly- the human/machine interface- Honeywell is turning its attention to fulfilling a growing demand from the OEM market- and preparing its retrofit version of Primus Apex. “We wanted to get the system certified and available to OEM customers before addressing the demand for a retrofit system-” Todd explained- but “absolutely” a retrofit package is coming.

We are working on a system that will be available for retrofit-” he said. The retrofit Primus Apex packages offered will be geared more toward two- and three-tube systems versus full-scale four-tube systems like the ones Honeywell now offers to OEMs. And the integration of some aircraft controls may not be part of the deal- given the complexities of adding gear or throttle control to existing aircraft. But the majority of the benefits of Primus Apex will be resident- including charts- maps and weather and hazard sensors- along with INAV- synthetic vision and the integrated tuning for radios.

Honeywell wants to make the retrofit match as close as practical to the factory OEM system. And having seen the quality of the displays and ease of use- it won’t be surprising to see Primus Apex quickly showing up in the panels of many older planes. If there’s one thing pilots and aircraft owners seem never to tire of- it’s improving their machines with the best possible advances available. Expect to start seeing Primus Apex factory installs on ramps soon. Once Honeywell gets up to speed- it makes progress quickly - and there seems little to question here – Honeywell is rolling with Primus Apex. 

More information from www.honeywell.com n


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