[Avionics Today 03-09-2015] With the five-year projected demand for helicopters expected to remain flat in 2015, there’s plenty of civilian rotorcraft in the global fleet ripe for avionics upgrades within the next several years. This is especially true considering that 2013 was considered a peak year for sales of rotorcraft airframes. During Heli Expo 2015, Avionics Magazine caught up with Honeywell’s Vice President of Defense and Space Tom Hart to discuss the aerospace giant's latest focus in improving rotorcraft data transmission speeds and software-based upgrades to its existing Epic Primus suite.
LifeNet of New York's air ambulance helicopter fleet, one of which is pictured here, will have to comply with the HEMS equipage requirements in the U.S. Photo: Life Net of New York.
Currently, both Honeywell and dealer network Greenwich AeroGroup peg the average speed of helicopter connectivity at 2.4 kilobits per second (Kbps), which is slower than that of a dial-up modem and much slower than the average connection speeds that rotary- and fixed-wing users are used to on the ground. Honeywell is looking to capture some of the relatively untapped potential for connectivity in the helicopter market with Aspire 200 and Inmarsat's L-band service to deliver data speeds ranging from 200 Kbps to 1 megabit per second (Mbps).
"I think the mission enhancements that are now being contemplated are coming about with this type of satcom data capability that we're introducing to helicopters," Hart told Avionics Magazine. "We haven't really thought through all the different possibilities that can be achieved with this type of data coming on and off board. With fixed wing aircraft, that's already happening, people stream videos all the time. But with helicopters, when you're doing police work, [Search and Rescue] SAR missions [or] oil rig transport missions, to have that kind of bandwidth available is really intriguing."
Honeywell is also looking to use its SkyConnect Tracker III and NextGen Health Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) to provide rotorcraft maintainers and operators with sensory data and fleet visibility that will allow them to make more well-informed decisions about asset allocation, maintenance and performance. The Honeywell aerospace division estimates that its HUMS system has been able to lower unscheduled rotorcraft maintenance by 50 to 75 percent. SkyConnect Tracker III uses data from Iridium-tracked aircraft to provide worldwide visibility into fleet operations where typical tracking operations are not possible, such as with oil and gas transport missions.
"We have linked SkyConnect tracking system and satcom with our HUMS together such that if you have a HUMS system with a SkyConnect, you can see in real time the irregular activity of different systems on the aircraft," said Hart. "Normally after a flight you would land, pull the data off, go analyze it in some laptop, and then realize there was an anomaly in the tail rotor. Now, you can get that data in real time, that says there's an anomaly in that tail rotor, the ground-based operations will see that and they will know right away they need to get a maintenance guy ready so that when the helicopter lands, people are already prepared and they know there is something to look at. That is an interesting capability that we're offering."
Inside the cockpit environment, Honeywell is continuing to follow a software-based approach, introducing robust upgrades that enable new functionalities within the next generation flight environment. The AgustaWestland Phase 7 software upgrade for the AW139 includes Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out transmissions, and upgrades to the Traffic Collision Avoidance System II (TCAS II) and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EPGWS) featured in the legacy Primus Epic avionics cockpit of the AW139.
These software-based upgrades allow helicopter air medical operators to meet the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) mandate. According to the FAA rules released in February 2014, HEMS operators are given three years from April 2015 to equip their aircraft with Helicopter Terrain and Warning System (HTAWS) technology, Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) equipment and radar altimeters.
"The FAA HEMS mandates require flight data monitoring, ADS-B, TCAS, HTAWS, that's a key component of our Phase 7 upgrade for AW139 Epic avionics," said Hart. "Honeywell is offering all four of those capabilities. SkyConnect offers flight data monitoring, the ADS-B capability, HTAWS with our EGPWS, and we have TCAS."
Hart said Honeywell is also currently working on the Phase 8 upgrade for its rotorcraft Primus Epic avionics platform, which will provide software-enabled synthetic vision capability. The company expects to release Phase 8 by the end of 2016.