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Business aircraft avionics move jet cockpits totally into the video age.

If there was an endangered species list for aviation technology- there can be little doubt about the position of the traditional six-pack of flight instruments: right at the top- already practically gone. Old-style dials- needles and gyros have vanished from virtually all factory business jets and they’ve pretty much disappeared from the propjets as well. The old needle-and-dials panels are fading even from the modest personal airplanes.

It’s the same story for the venerable box-by-box radio stack. The days of the multiple-box avionics set also appear numbered in the last few places they remain – some entry-level jets and propjets. And it matters little about which strata of aviation you speak; from the humblest of Light Sport Aircraft through the ranks of the FAR 23 piston line-up- and beyond to the top of the business aircraft ranks. More and more aircraft up and down the scale emerge from the factory with integrated panels that put literally all the flight and engine instruments- navigation- communications and surveillance boxes into packages with two or three display screens to show everything and a single panel to control it all.

The modern airplane increasingly has a glut of unused space compared to those days not far past- when it seemed a miracle that engineers could cram into every possible inch of panel space the needed switches and breakers and boxes- dials and gyros. In fact- a couple of old aviation saws of my acquaintance like to needle some of our younger aviator friends about the difference. “You got short-changed-” they taunt. “There’s a lot of empty space in that panel – I hope they didn’t charge you extra to leave that space.”

Among the selling points of today’s modern digital panels is the ability of manufacturers to put in more functionality for proportionally less money after you factor in the simpler installation and reduced labor in doing the install. Today’s modern integrated panels- which eschew old-style spinning-mass gyros and other mechanically oriented data sources- sport a variety of miniaturized attitude and air-data sensors instead. This change provides significant weight savings often worth an extra passenger and baggage in useful load. But these systems- dependent as they are on a supply of electricity- create their own issues- issues which require new levels of electrical and hardware redundancy to fully address.

Nonetheless- virtually no one in my experience considers today’s cutting-edge technology inexpensive. They often appear overly expensive because you can get a price quote for an integrated system that’s usually one amount – as opposed to the quote you’d see for an old-fashioned panel with prices for all those individual components now built into the new electronic systems.

So attractive are the long-term life-cycle benefits that a growing number of owners of several older business aircraft embrace panel upgrades that bring new capabilities and benefits to these otherwise capable birds. The changeover has also impacted maintenance shops- since these new systems require more familiarity with electronics and software and less expertise in mechanics and electromechanical instruments.

Yes- it’s a brave new world- one that someday will have pilots calling to one another to look at some “antique” panel – the exact opposite of today- when pilots often stir with excitement when they get their first exposure to one of these panels with little more than three blank screens and a control module. Today’s questions about avionics often come down to wondering how companies created some of the advances available- such as digital systems capable of learning future functions and adapting to as-yet-unknown requirements – without yanking out old boxes for new.

So- let’s look at some of today’s state-of-the-art in cockpit gear- who makes it and where it’s showing up. There’s no need to reboot your flying skills – just your avionics knowledge. And there are whole weeks of classes to help you adapt- so even the older dogs can pick up some new tricks.

The High Points
For this report- rather than try to give an overview of everything in the inventory- we’re going to touch on the high points of the new-and-upcoming systems either fresh on the scene or coming soon to a future business jet near you. And we’ll explore examples from each segment- with something for the lightest through the heaviest business machines flying.

They’ll generally have in common their reliance on items like Active Matrix Liquid-Crystal Displays (AMLCD)- solid-state attitude and air-data sensors (AHARS and ADAHARS)- and employ electronic display technology for monitoring powerplants and related systems known as Engine Information & Condition Awareness Systems (EICAS). So beware – the acronym light is lit.

Garmin G1000: Winning cockpits and fans alike
In what seems like a ridiculously short time- Garmin International managed to progress from an upstart in the aircraft-avionics field with a line of highly popular hand-held GPS navigators to one of the 900-pound gorillas - all on the popularity of a pair of all-in-one GPS/VHF-Nav/Com boxes differentiated primarily by the size of their indigenous color moving-map displays.

And then Garmin established itself as a top player in business-turbine aviation with its G1000 integrated panel system when Cessna embraced the system for its Citation Mustang VLJ – as well as virtually everything in between the little jet and the humble 172 Skyhawk piston single. Hawker Beechcraft then adapted the G1000 for the Bonanza and the Baron. And the list of takers goes on much further.

Garmin achieved this success by becoming the first company serving the personal-airplane segment to offer a proportionally priced all-encompassing panel solution on par with six-figure systems long used in the upper-strata business jets – right down to its new digital autopilot. Like those more-expensive systems- the G1000 integrates all primary flight- navigation- communication- terrain- traffic- surveillance- weather and engine sensor data on two or three Garmin high-definition LCDs.

This past April- Garmin announced certification of an enhancement that further narrows what little gap existed between the G1000 and upper-end systems from Rockwell Collins or Honeywell. Garmin calls it Synthetic Vision Technology- or SVT- and overlaying on the PFD synthesized color images of the terrain ahead is only the start of what this enhancement does for the G1000.

First- SVT uses TAWS-like color changes to present terrain that represents a hazard to the aircraft; it also uses distance information to size TCAS-like target indications when connected to a TAS unit- making those closer proportionally larger than targets farther away. Through the SVT enhancement- Garmin also gave the G1000 system the ability to generate so-called Highway-in-The-Sky cues – floating rectangular boxes that follow the course or an approach. Flying through the boxes keeps you on-course and at the correct altitude.

Garmin also recently announced a new G950 version that will lack the autopilot and the option to use SVT for manufacturers seeking a lower-cost solution and simpler certification.

More information from www.garmin.com

Honeywell Primus Epic: Both a backbone and an ‘as-is’ favorite
A few weeks back Gulfstream launched an all-new jet- the G650. Billed as the largest-ever purpose-built business jet- the G650 promises advances in construction techniques and a new level of space and range.

When the aircraft can cover 7-000 miles non-stop- the avionics suite must be capable of helping the flight crews operate- manage- navigate- communicate and monitor aircraft systems easily and intuitively. Consequently- when it hits the ramps in 2012- Gulfstream’s G650 will bring pilots among the most-advanced cockpits yet- building on the PlaneView flight deck pioneered on earlier models.

Providing the foundation and much of the avionics hardware and software is Honeywell. The G650’s PlaneView II flight deck employs Honeywell’s Primus Epic integrated avionics suite as its base system. And Honeywell is bringing some new tricks to this cockpit- as is Gulfstream… and Rockwell Collins… and Kollsman. The result is an advanced cockpit unlike any currently available.

Much the same can be said of the EASy cockpit Dassault developed for its Falcons with Honeywell’s Primus Epic as the foundation.

Designed to maximize automation and graphical control of virtually every system the flight deck manages- Epic essentially employs a digital network to communicate commands and sensor data between the components and the screen displays.

Cursor-Control Devices- or CCDs- allow pilots to maneuver screen cursors for point-and-click systems management- radio tuning and other flight-deck functions. These CCDs in knowledgeable hands help an adept flight crew go about their business with a minimum of reaching to the panel to push a button.

The Honeywell foundation called for in Gulfstream’s Plane View II cockpit- for example- includes Primus Epic’s four-screen set-up with 14-inch (diagonally) adaptive LCDs. These screens serve up the primary and secondary flight instruments- detailed moving map displays- engine-management indicators- airframe- and system-status graphics. All are managed through a fully digital database with advanced high-speed processing and fast update capabilities designed to accommodate future functions.

To manage the aircraft’s avionics and systems- the PlaneView II cockpit sports a trio of standard PlaneBook tablets. Perhaps the most interesting advances of the G650’s flight deck is the merging of vision-oriented technologies into a single cockpit.

The G650 will sport Gulfstream’s latest Enhanced Vision System- EVS II- with sensor technology from Kollsman- and projected on Rockwell Collins’ latest Head-Up Display- HUD II. And on the PFD- Gulfstream plans to employ Honeywell’s latest Synthetic-Vision Primary Flight Display (SV-PFD). The synthetic-vision system provides a synthesized three-dimensional- color image of terrain and obstacles derived from GPS referencing of a detailed database.

Together- the EVS and SVS technologies assure the pilot of a clear view of what’s ahead- weather- smoke or fog notwithstanding- right down to the runway threshold in the worst of inclement conditions.

Honeywell Primus Apex: Think Epic for the single-pilot turbine
Certification earlier this year of the newest generation of Pilatus PC-12 served to seal the introduction of Primus Apex- a new integrated panel for the single-pilot turbine end of the market from Honeywell. Honeywell executives confirm Apex shares much in its technological and technical genes with Epic - a stack geared toward the world where the two-pilot cockpit is a standard.

Formally introduced at the 2006 NBAA- Primus Apex received its ultimate approvals in 2007- uncharacteristically to the FAR 25 airline-level for a system aimed at aircraft which squarely fall under FAR 23 for general aviation aircraft – where a lone pilot is both legal and frequent. And it’s that flight-deck staffing delta that underpins Apex’s design philosophy.

While building on the digital datalink backbone advanced with Epic- Honeywell sought to provide an equal level of information- control and convenience in a format and form optimized for the one in the left seat of a single-pilot cockpit.

The four screens of Apex work in concert with everything about the airplane- from autopilot and avionics integration and control- graphical engine information- the full complement of hazard-avoidance awareness- flight and air-data instruments- even synthetic vision and graphical flight planning. Auto throttle- full-function flight management system - all combine through Apex’s screens and its controls. But all of this comes at a price point compatible with its target segment: Light and smaller jets- turboprops and - possibly - the upper end of the piston market.

As of this writing- Honeywell expected to complete new OEM deals to add to Pilatus- Grob (for the spn) and China’s Harbin Aircraft Corp (for the Y-12). According to published reports- one unannounced customer is Viking Air- which is in the process of resurrecting the DHC-6 de Havilland Twin Otter. The company also has in the works Apex retrofit options.

More information from www.honeywell.com

L-3 Communications SmartDeck: Offering moves company into integrated panels
Now for a move completely different: For years- L3 has been known in aviation widely for the quality and value of its hazard-sensor products- products familiar to almost anyone who’s ever spent time hanging around a hangar. Stormscope is arguably the best and longest known - but serious pilots also recognize other names- such as LandMark for terrain awareness- or SkyWatch for traffic.

Since the launch of its all-new SmartDeck integrated panel- L-3 Communications is becoming known for its own solution for the interface of a single pilot with an integrated panel. The company also raised the bar by giving SmartDeck redundancy in attitude and air-data sensors and other touches normally not found on systems at this stratum of the market. This redundancy combines with dual WAAS GPS receivers- dual VHF Nav and com radios- transponder- digital autopilot from S-TEC- and a pair of huge 14-inch displays and a remotely mounted radio control unit to add up to a system equal to that in many corporate jets with far higher prices.

L-3 engineers gave SmartDeck some features novel for integrated panels at this end of the market- as well as some unique to this product. For example- SmartDeck presents the Directional Gyro/HSI image from an oblique angle- as if it were a compass rose sitting horizontally in front of you. Another welcome difference is a skid/slip indicator presented directly under the top of the roll markets on the Attitude Indicators – and as a ball in a tube- rather than something more cryptic. The system also offers bugs you can set as reminders for heading- altitude and airspeed.

For the market targeted and priced- there are a whole lot of heavy-turbine features indigenous to SmartDeck.

As it was announced at NBAA last September- Cirrus Design was among the takers already lined up to use SmartDeck for its developmental the-jet turbofan single. And S-TEC has already received TSO approval for the 1950C attitude-based digital autopilot system built integrally into SmartDeck. SmartDeck will also offer compatibility with L-3’s new IRIS infrared-imaging sensor STC’d for a large section of the King Air line earlier this year.

More information from www.l3com.com

Rockwell Collins: New Pro Line fusion finds some takers
The state-of-the-art seldom remains static for long- and both Bombardier and Cessna offer examples adapting something new to move up the bar for their top products. At the 2007 NBAA convention in Atlanta- Georgia- Bombardier announced development of its new Global Vision flight deck for its Global Express aircraft.

Similar to the PlaneView panel- the Global Vision cockpit is built on a vendors integrated flight-deck system – in this case the new Pro Line Fusion suite from Rockwell Collins. The Pro Line Fusion panel employs four AMLCDs- each measuring 15 inches diagonally and capable of serving cross purposes for redundancy as PFD- MFD and hazard-awareness displays.

In addition to the four panel displays- this application of Pro Line Fusion integrates Rockwell’s Heads Up Guidance System (HGS) and the Bombardier Enhanced Vision System (BEVS) to provide see-in-the-dark capabilities to the Global cockpit- when working with the synthetic vision capabilities of the Global Vision cockpit.

Controller-pilot datalink communications- MultiScan weather radar- personalized information and electronic check lists are also elements destined for the Global Vision panel when certificated in the third quarter of 2010.

Cessna also opted for Pro Line Fusion in its newest and largest business jet to date - the recently announced Citation Columbus. This package will include four 15-inch liquid crystal displays- providing synthetic vision depiction of terrain and obstacles- MultiScan weather radar- integrated flight information systems with electronic charts- maps and graphical weather overlays- dual advanced flight management systems and a variety of other features. Options will include Head-Up Displays- enhanced vision- predictive wind shear weather radar and Controller-Pilot Data Link Communication.

A prototype aircraft will be rolled out in 2011- and Cessna anticipates receipt of a type certificate from the FAA in 2013- followed by initial customer deliveries in 2014.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com

Skimming the Top
The above collection merely skims the cream of today’s avionics crop- from the single-pilot-oriented single- and twin-propjets- VLJs- Light Jets right up to the top of the range purpose-built business jet fleet. And you may have noticed that to a company- upgradeability and updateability both are held in high regard by the avionics makers – and with good reason.

Today’s air-traffic control- the current technology and methodology already are considered the next generation’s historical system.

Once Congress and the White House stop arguing about how to fund FAA and future development of the Next Generation Air Traffic Operation- equipment needs will change and- according to popular belief- how traffic is managed will change with the equipment and the new capabilities promised.

It’s something of a credit to these clever companies that they’re fielding new systems based on new digital technologies to work today with yesterday’s technology and still have application in the future when tomorrow’s technology finally arrives. Otherwise- why would you argue for buying anything more than a new GPS unless there were benefits beyond the immediate.

Thankfully- these new systems seem poised to work years into the advent of NextGen – whenever that happens to occur.


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