[Avionics Today 08-19-2014] The oldest model of the Convair 580 still in operation is, ironically, the test aircraft for Honeywell’s groundbreaking new RDR-4000 IntuVue 3-D Radar technology. From the cockpit of the 1952, Dallas-based plane, the IntuVue system scans, records and reports weather 180 degrees for up to 320 nautical miles — all the while automatically adjusting for curvature of the Earth, storing data, more accurately predicting wind shear and eventually providing hail and lightning warnings to pilots in-flight. The 3-D Radar displays weather up to 60,000 feet, with turbulence protection up to 60 nautical miles and is the first system certified to FAA Minimum Operating Performance Standards (MOPS) for enhanced turbulence.
Honeywell is using this Convair 580 to flight test the new weather radar technology. Photo: Honeywell.
“The IntuVue system is automatically and continuously scanning up to 17 different tilt diagonals, and this happens without any pilot interaction,” said Jeff Hester, senior manager of tech sales at Honeywell. With these enhancements, Honeywell believes the RDR-4000 will provide a more complete picture of weather systems than previous radar technology, which relied on basic tilt and took a huge amount of time, effort and concentration from an already bogged-down pilot.
“All data is then pulled into a three-dimensional volumetric buffer, which is updated every 20 to 30 seconds with a set of scans,” Hester added. “This creates a complete 3-D picture of weather in front of the aircraft. We are able to devise with this a complete situational awareness for the pilots so they can help us be safe and avoid any serious threats you might miss with other systems.”
The aim of the technology is to help pilots “see through storms,” or calculate how severe weather will be farther ahead in the flight path and choose the best way around the storm. And with future features, the system will help pilots predict whether deviating from the flight path is even necessary with storm tracking.
Here's what the pilot interface of Honeywell's RDR-4000 IntuVue 3-D Radar technology looks like. Photo: Honeywell.
“The idea is to give the pilot a view of where the storm will be when they get there,” said Hester. “So what this tells the pilot is, ‘this is in the flight path right now but by the time you get there it’s going to move out of your way.’”
And with a better picture of what lies ahead, pilots can make safer choices that will save time with a more strategic flight path around severe weather, save money by reducing weather-related delays, and lessen passenger discomfort by reducing turbulence, according to Honeywell.
While Hester emphasizes that safety is the largest advantage of the new system, money is no small issue. This is especially true in an economic environment where many airlines are still trying to recover from the 2008 global recession. In 2014 the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) expects airlines to earn a net profit of $18 billion with a net profit margin of 2.4 percent. “The cost savings with this are huge,” said Hester.
Honeywell estimates that weather-related delays and cancellations cost the U.S. air transportation industry $18 billion in 2007. Meanwhile, turbulence-related incidents cost an airline an estimated $150,000 per incident, a huge hit that the new system hopes to help airlines avoid.
And there’s something to be said for passenger convenience as well.
“The numbers are staggering when you actually look at it. When you add up all the time to the flying public that’s delayed and then the propagating effects of missing one flight and then missing the next flight and then being a day late to your meeting — a 30-minute delay can really compound your situation,” Hester said.
Honeywell predicts a global impact for the RDR-4000 when the newest version with hail and lightning applications becomes widely available in 2015. Hester says the company is hoping the technology will become standard on new aircraft coming out on the market, including the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 Max.
Honeywell is already looking toward the future, as the system allows for software updates, often from the aircraft itself.
“The weather radar is still the best source for information right in front of the aircraft,” Hester said. “Anytime we can do optimal routing that’s going to get everybody to where they’re going faster, we can save passengers discomfort, predict it farther ahead and can save fuel to the airlines and the costs there.”