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Integrated Avionics Move Into Light Helos

OEMs and operators are embracing the ability of integrated modular avionics to improve capabilities and reliability while reducing weight and maintenance for light helicopters.

Light helicopters are following the decade-long trend of adopting flat-panel interactive human-machine interfaces. This has been driven by the avionics industry’s expansion in digital mapping, synthetic vision, wire and traffic warning systems fueled by highly certified software.

With growing innovation, OEMs adopt standard high-definition-screen cockpits with greater capability and, due to a reduction in line-replaceable units, trimmed weight.

Tony Bonham, senior director of flight operations for Air Evac Lifeteam, told R&WI that a key issue for light helicopter operators when choosing avionics is safety. Air Evac has taken the lead on many safety enhancements, even those not mandated by the FAA, including night-vision goggles and autopilots. “The primary return on investment is the return of enhanced safety,” said Bonham.

In providing capabilities that light helo operators want, some OEMs are adopting integrated modular avionics as standard cockpit packages. The biggest example of this trend from analog gauge setups toward solid-state electronics is Bell’s $1 million-plus 505 Jet Ranger X, the first light helicopter to feature a standard-production flight deck with integrated modular avionics.

Bell uses the Garmin G1000HTM flight deck with dual 10.4-in liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. Standard avionics on the 505 include digital mapping, flight monitoring and a Mode S transponder that complies with the FAA’s 2020 mandate for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast out (ADS-B Out) equipage.

Air Evac Lifeteam has taken the lead on many safety enhancements, even those not mandated by the FAA, including night-vision goggles and autopilots.Photo courtesy of Air Evac Lifeteam

Bell and Garmin “see the 505 meeting and exceeding the upcoming avionics requirements,” said LaShan Bonaparte, Bell’s 505 program manager. She said Bell has equipped its current models with fully integrated glass cockpits with features like helicopter terrain awareness warning systems (HTAWS) and traffic information systems to enhance safety. Buyers can use an online configuration tool to customize their Bells’ avionics with upgrades.

Airbus is bringing integrated modular avionics to Part 27 aircraft with its four-axis autopilot Helionix package on the H135. The H175, H145 T2 and H160 already have Helionix.

Christian Franot, Helionix project manager, said the package allows Airbus to deploy an open architecture that can interface with external systems, giving operators the ability to implement new cost-effective software-based capabilities rather than buy new boxes. Helionix also enables operators to reduce training on different platforms if they opt for an all-Airbus fleet, he said. “We have really reduced training because each platform features the same [human-machine interface], the same architecture and the same system logic,” Franot said.

Air Evac Lifeteam has taken the lead on many safety enhancements, even those not mandated by the FAA, including night-vision goggles and autopilots.Photo courtesy of Air Evac Lifeteam

Airbus expects EASA certification of the Helionix-equipped H135 later this year.

Robinson is also adopting a display-centered cockpit for its R44s and R66s. Two versions of the R66 are available, with the Garmin G500H or a primary flight display (PFD) and multi-function display (MFD) from Aspen Avionics.

The company expects to gain certification of the Garmin 500-equipped R44 soon.

The Aspen and Garmin units replace heavier and less reliable mechanical artificial horizons and directional gyros. The older devices also were more expensive, so the Aspen and Garmin units “have made the R44 and R66 lighter and a lot more reliable,” said Kurt Robinson, president of the manufacturer.

The least expensive option for the Robinsons, at $10,100, is the Aspen basic PFD, according to the OEM. The complete package on the R66 (with a Garmin 500, a Garmin 750 and an autopilot/stability augmentation systems) costs about $100,000. The full Aspen option of the PFD, MFD and autopilot/stability augmentation systems costs about $60,000 to have a full-blown autopilot.

”So we’re driving the cost and the reliability of the system, too, and that’s something that we’re focused on,” said Robinson.

Those interviewed reported no major challenges in obtaining certification of cockpit upgrades for Part 27 aircraft. Bonham said Air Evac faced no challenges in complying with the FAA’s April 2017 mandate to equip its aircraft with HTAWS, the April 2018 deadline for installing flight data monitoring system or the 2020 ADS-B mandate. He said all Air Evac’s upgrades are to be completed by 2017.

Aspen President and CEO John Uczekaj said operators of Part 27 helicopters are just beginning the transition to integrated modular avionics cockpits.

“We’re at a stage right now where the market is starting to accept that the glass displays provide a safety and a reliability benefit to helicopters in this category,” he said. “As with any technology, there are hurdles to overcome.”

Robinson revamped the R66 to hike reliability, pare maintenance costs and cut weight.Photo courtesy of Robinson Helicopter

L-3 Communications has specifically focused on avionics solutions that allow a helicopter a path toward compliance with the FAA’s 2020 ADS-B mandate. Over the last year, it achieved an Approved Model List supplemental type certificate (STC) for installation of its Lynx NGT 9000 family of multi-function ADS-B transponders in most Part 27 rotorcraft in operation today.

The company’s VP of sales and marketing, Larry Riddle, said L-3 saw no major delays in gaining that AML STC for Lynx, which combines a touchscreen ADS-B transponder with a display for viewing ADS-B traffic and weather data in a single, panel-mounted unit. L-3 also offers an option to add active traffic and aural alerting as well as a Wi-Fi interface module for connectivity to mobile and tablet flight apps.

Lynx also includes an embedded wide-area augmentation system GPS, which requires no external GPS connections. As opposed to upgrading a transponder, position source, annunciators and an interface mechanism, Riddle said, the NGT-9000 provides all of these separate ADS-B components in one box. L-3’s dealer net price is $4,120 for the base NGT 9000. “Based on the shop you’re dealing with,” Riddle said, “you’ll add on an installation cost to that.”

Garmin has also worked to simplify installation and certification for operators with a software-based scalable approach to its latest Part 27 avionics technology.

Stay Focused on Training

“ADS-B, HTAWS and radar altimeters are very much in-demand elements, given the impending regulatory mandates depending upon the type of helicopter operations,” said David Wysong, Garmin’s team lead of aviation systems and programs.“ Any helo operating a WAAS-equipped GNS or a GTN or any of the Garmin integrated flight decks can get HTAWS capability with a software enablement card. There is typically no additional hardware requirement.”

Garmin recently introduced WireAware, a database of powerlines that are displayed on its existing moving maps and synthetic vision, providing another level of situational awareness for pilots.

As Part 27 operators continue to adopt integrated modular avionics cockpits and modify their existing helicopters to comply with airspace mandates, the FAA’s Rotorcraft Directorate and the agency’s various certification offices will see an influx of requests for approvals to install innovative new technology.

Robinson’s VP of engineering, Peter Riedl, recommended that operators transitioning to integrated modular avionics systems focus on training, not on becoming overly reliant on the automation.

“The benefits are there if pilots get the proper training before flying because there are a lot of features, and that can be a distraction to flying,” he said. “Don’t try to learn it while you’re flying.”

Dallas Avionics Distributes ADS600-B

Dallas Avionics is distributing NavWorx’s ADS600-B, which it said meets all FAA requirements for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B).

The ADS600-B is compliant to FAR 91.225 and FAR 91.227, which prescribe the airspace, operational and equipage ADS-B requirements for aircraft, the Dallas-based company said, and also meets the Technical Standard Order and Supplemental Type Certificate mandates for ADS-B Out.

In addition, the company said, NavWorx’s ADS600-B is a certified receiver for ADS-B In applications. With an optional Wi-Fi adapter, it said, the unit can offer three simultaneous display capabilities and provides traffic and weather updates.

According to VP of Sales Scott Davis, the ADS600-B easily integrates with existing equipment and uses any existing Mode C or Mode S transponders. “There is no need for customers to replace existing transponders or altitude encoders,” he said. R&WI