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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Industry Scan

Primus Epic Suite Lets Helicopter Pilots Be Flight Managers

Honeywell wants to promote pilots of advanced helicopters to the same status long enjoyed by their fixed-wing brethren: flight manager as opposed to aircraft driver.

Not that there’s anything wrong with hands-on flying; it’s just that anything a human can do, Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics suite can do better, from hovering to precision instrument flying. During a demonstration Sept. 10 in the company’s Primus Epic-equipped AgustaWestland AW139, Honeywell Capt. Marc Lajeunesse showed that the system, if you let it, can almost take all the fun out of helicopter flying.

Or, the system can make flying more enjoyable and safer, by taking on tedious or risky jobs, leaving the pilot fresh for landings or whenever he wants to take cyclic and collective into his own hands. In other words, increased safety and less fatigue through smart management, a feature many helicopter operators will find attractive considering the challenging environments they work in.

Primus Epic does for the AW139, the first helicopter to be certified with the system, exactly what it has been doing for fixed-wing aircraft, integrating navigation units, radios, displays, autopilots and flight managements units into a single system, decreasing workload and increasing situational awareness.

Honeywell made every possible effort to make the flight displays in this application of Primus Epic look and act like they do in fixed-wing aircraft, to minimize training for those who have used the system before, said James Nicholls, Honeywell senior technical manager. Judging from just a few minutes of knob twisting and button pushing while sitting in the left seat of N139H on Landmark Aviation’s ramp at Dulles International Airport (KIAD), the Primus Epic cockpit appears so logically put together that learning it from scratch shouldn’t be too difficult.

The differences between Primus Epic in the AW139 and in a Gulfstream or Falcon jet are by and large directly related to the differences between helicopters and jets. In a double-autopilot system on a fixed-wing aircraft, one autopilot works and the second waits for the first one to break. In the AW139, the two autopilots are engaged at the same time, each running at half gain to control the three linear actuators that control the aircraft’s attitude.

The sum of the two autopilots output provides full authority. In the event an actuator fails and goes hard over in one direction, the off-side actuator goes in the opposite direction to nullify the uncommanded move. The result, at the pilot level, is nothing — a benign failure.

Prior to a demonstration flight to Frederick, Md. (KFKD), about 20 miles north of KIAD, Lajeunesse, a veteran helicopter and business jet pilot, said we wouldn’t see him touching the flight controls too much because Primus Epic can do a better job precisely controlling the aircraft. That was true through the short climb out and cruise, then the GPS approach to Runway 5 at KFDK, as well as a go-around maneuver and a visual approach followed by a hovering demonstration, all commanded by the avionics system.

The Primus Epic controlled both flight path and airspeed through the GPS 5, decelerating during the final segment of the approach to cross the runway threshold at 80 knots, then, after Lajeunesse engaged auto level mode, entered a rock-steady hover at 50 feet above the ground.

Most impressive was the hovering demonstration, where Lajeunesse showed off the Primus Epic’s lateral control, commanding the AW139 to move left, right, forward and backward. Tapping the "beep" switch, a coolie hat on the cyclic control, to the right results in a magenta circle drawn in the center of the hover display on the PFD moving to the right. The helicopter then moves toward the magenta circle at the desired speed, up to 20 knots, displayed as a "20" next to the circle. FAA has already approved this method of hover maneuvering for a winch operator, who, when equipped with his own beep switch, would be able to make the fine adjustments necessary to positioning a lifeline over a crash site or life raft.

The AW139 safety features include the stuff you would expect — automatic display reversion, standard dual FMS, EGPWS, TCAS and a power index engine display that automatically shows the pilot the most important engine parameter of the three required by regulation for the particular phase of flight, reducing screen clutter and unnecessary information. — Ron Laurenzo


Business/GA

DayJet Shutdown

Air taxi operator DayJet abruptly ceased operations Sept. 19, citing both an inability to obtain financing and supplier Eclipse Aviation’s failure to install missing equipment and make needed repairs.

DayJet, based in Boca Raton, Fla., was the largest customer of the Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet, with 1,400 on order at one time. DayJet was operating 28 aircraft at the time of the shutdown.

The announcement was further bad news for Albuquerque, N.M.-based Eclipse Aviation, which itself was troubled after facing a succession of problems and delays with the Eclipse 500. Two days before the DayJet announcement, FAA’s process of certifying the aircraft was scrutinized by the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee.

Eclipse’s problems also spread to its suppliers. Cockpit display provider Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S) announced Aug. 20 it was revising down its fourth quarter and fiscal-year revenue targets because "issues at a major customer have caused orders from this customer to be lower than expected." IS&S, Honeywell, Garmin and PS Engineering joined to supply the Avio NG avionics suite of the Eclipse 500 after Eclipse Aviation parted ways with the original supplier, Avidyne Corp.

Eclipse Aviation announced type certification of the Eclipse 500 in September 2006. As of August this year, the company said it had delivered 245 aircraft. Certification of the new Avio NG system was announced in December 2007. Aircraft 105 was the first production Eclipse 500 equipped with the new avionics; earlier copies with the Avidyne system are being retrofitted.

DayJet was founded in 2002 to provide on-demand transport between secondary regional markets using new VLJs. "Plagued by three years of delayed aircraft deliveries, DayJet finally launched the world’s first ‘Per-Seat, On-Demand’ jet service in October 2007 amidst much anticipation," the company stated. Since the launch, DayJet said it had built its membership base to 2,400 and served 60 destinations in five states. DayJet and FAA had entered into a five-year agreement to implement NextGen technologies, including Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), in southern Florida.

In a press release, DayJet said it had discontinued service, cancelled all flights and eliminated most of its employees, reportedly about 160. "This shutdown is a direct consequence of the company’s inability to arrange critical financing in the midst of the current global financial crisis," DayJet said. "The company’s operations have also suffered as a result of Eclipse Aviation’s failure to install missing equipment or functionality or repair agreed technical discrepancies in accordance with the terms of DayJet’s aircraft purchase contract."

The company said Ed Iacobucci had stepped down as president and CEO, but continued to serve as chairman. John Staten, formerly CFO and senior vice president of operations, was named interim CEO.

In a message to customers, DayJet said it had tried to secure financing until the day before the announcement. It said resuming operations is "possible, but with the current condition in the capital markets, it is unlikely at this time."

Eclipse Aviation issued a statement the following day. "While DayJet was Eclipse’s largest customer, Eclipse’s business model and success has never relied solely on DayJet," the company said. "Eclipse still has hundreds of orders to fill independent of DayJet, and existing customers will be happy and eager to move up in line. Eclipse also anticipates ongoing interest in the United States as well as fulfilling the strong demand for the Eclipse 500 in the global markets."

Bombardier, Grob Part

Bombardier Aerospace said Sept. 18 it had terminated its development agreement with Switzerland’s Grob Aerospace for Learjet 85 primary and secondary structures. Bombardier said it is "assuming complete responsibility for the detail design and manufacturing of all primary and secondary structures" of the new composite jet.

The move dealt another blow to Grob, which a month earlier declared its German manufacturing operation insolvent due to delays in the spn light business jet program. "Given the uncertainty surrounding Grob’s insolvency, Learjet has decided to terminate its agreement with Grob Aerospace, effective Sept. 17. Bombardier Aerospace is taking decisive action and this decision reflects our strong commitment to both the Learjet 85 aircraft program and to a growing number of leading business jet customers worldwide who have selected" the new mid-size business jet, said Steve Ridolfi, Bombardier Business Aircraft president.

Ridolfi said the eight-passenger, transcontinental jet was in the final stages of a joint definition phase involving suppliers.

Grob on Sept. 18 issued the following statement: "As of today, Grob Aerospace accepted that Bombardier has cancelled the agreement with Grob Aerospace to continue the development of the Learjet 85 primary and secondary structure. This decision by Bombardier Aerospace is an unfortunate result of uncertainty surrounding the current interim insolvency of Grob Aerospace GmbH in Germany. Whilst this outcome is regrettable, it is a matter of fact that Bombardier needs to take whatever measures they deem necessary in order to protect the time line of their program. The parties have agreed to cooperate and to jointly remove the Bombardier program from the Tussenhausen-Mattsies facility."

Universal Settlement

Universal Avionics Systems Corp. in September said it had reached a settlement with Optima Technology Group in its patent litigation over Universal’s Vision-1 synthetic vision system.

Universal said it filed a lawsuit in November 2007 against Optima, a patent holding company, "after repeated threats from Optima CEO, Robert Adams, to sue for alleged infringement" of patents based on Universal’s sale of the Vision-1 product. In the lawsuit, Universal sought a declaration that the patents were invalid and not infringed. Optima filed counter claims seeking a finding of infringement, substantial damages and an ongoing royalty.

Under terms of the agreement, released Sept. 23, Universal said it will pay nothing and receive a full release of liability from Optima and a covenant not to sue for patent infringement in connection with all current or future Universal products.

"Universal takes great care not to infringe on any existing patents in any way, yet we are often approached by patent holding companies or inventors with unfounded threats of legal action relating to alleged infringement," said Joachim L. Naimer, Universal Avionics president and CEO. "In each case, Universal carefully considers the allegations and we do defend ourselves against any and all such attempts with the utmost vigor and will continue to do so."

Universal’s lead counsel Scott J. Bornstein, of the firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, said, "The settlement fully vindicates Universal’s position that it did not infringe any valid claims from Optima’s patents and thus did not require a license to market and sell its Vision-1 products."

SKYLink Coverage

ARINC in September expanded the SKYLink broadband satellite network to include substantial coverage of the Caribbean, Central America and part of South America. SKYLink, a Ku-band service introduced in 2005, provides in-flight Web, Voice over Internet Protocol and other capabilities for large business jets. Rockwell Collins sells and supports the airborne broadband hardware, called the eXchange system with SKYLink service.

Coverage includes the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, Trinidad-Tobago; Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, northern Peru, northern Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana and part of Surinam.

Twin Otter

The DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 Technology Demonstrator, produced by Viking Air Ltd., of Victoria, British Columbia, achieved "power on" status in September. The first flight was expected to take place in late October, the company said.

Viking launched the Series 400 program in 2007, and said it anticipates customer deliveries to begin in 2009. The updated cockpit of the 19-passenger commuter airplane is outfitted with the Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite, which includes two primary flight displays and two multifunction displays.

The Twin Otter is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 or optional PT6A-35 Hot & High Performance engines, and available with standard landing gear, straight floats, amphibious floats, skis, wheel skis, or intermediate flotation landing gear.

Viking Air operates a Victoria, British Columbia, modification, repair and manufacturing facility, specializing in de Havilland products.

HondaJet Panels

Korry Electronics, based in Seattle, was chosen by Honda Aircraft Co. to supply cockpit control panels for the new HondaJet light jet.

Korry said each panel will integrate its 5/8-inch LED switches with light plates and other components, "providing a compact, ergonomically efficient solution." The company, a subsidiary of Esterline Corp., will supply 12 control panels per aircraft beginning this year.

Honda Aircraft Co. is building a headquarters, research and development facility, production plant and delivery center for the HondaJet at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. The company expects first flight of a "conforming model" next year with type certification in 2010.

Gama Acquires Lees

Gama Holdings, Farnborough, U.K., in September finalized its acquisition of Lees Avionics Ltd., of Buckinghamshire. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Gama said Lees’ capability to design, install and manufacture avionics systems for a range of aircraft types make it an ideal fit. The acquisition allows the Gama division, Gama Support Services Ltd., to offer full aircraft design, modification and installation services. "The main focus of Gama’s continued logical growth is to provide additional support services to the business aviation industry both here in the U.K. and around the world," said Marwan Khalek, Gama Holdings CEO.

Commercial

ADS-B Milestone

ITT Corp. on Sept. 16 said it achieved initial operational capability (IOC) for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) essential services in southern Florida.

The essential services capability means that broadcast air-traffic, weather and aeronautical data is available from 11 ADS-B ground stations in the region. The stations are supported by processing from an ADS-B data center, radar data from FAA facilities, and a weather and aeronautical data feed from ITT partner WSI. Achieving IOC required the engineering, design, development, integration and test of the system infrastructure by ITT and independent test activity by the FAA.

ITT in August 2007 was awarded a $207 million initial contract by FAA to lead a team to develop and deploy the first phase of the ADS-B ground infrastructure.

"This milestone has been achieved in accordance with the FAA’s very aggressive schedule," said Mike Wilson, president of ITT’s Advanced Engineering and Sciences business. "Achieving IOC represents an important first step for the FAA’s NextGen program and is essential to the nation’s journey toward a modernized national airspace system."

FAA said full commissioning of broadcast services in Florida was scheduled for November. ADS-B ground stations providing both Traffic Information Service (TIS-B) and Flight Information Services (FIS-B) broadcasts will be deployed along the East and West coasts, areas of the Midwest and portions of Alaska by 2010.

Cooperation Urged

European regulators called for stronger cooperation to integrate the Single European Sky ATM Research Program (SESAR) and the United States’ Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) at an ICAO Forum in Montreal in September.

Participants said the two sides need to identify commonalities and differences between the systems to expedite harmonization and interoperability.

"SESAR is a truly new approach to ATM modernization, providing guidance and leadership to all ATM-related activities in Europe with a view to achieving global interoperability," said Daniel Calleja, European Commission director of air transport.

Runway Awareness

Alaska Airlines said it will equip its entire fleet with Honeywell’s Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS). The carrier began installing RAAS on its Boeing 737s in July, and the fleet was to be fully equipped with the aural alert software by September.

Developed by Honeywell in 2003, RAAS is a software enhancement to Honeywell’s Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), which provides pilots with audible alerts when they approach and enter taxiways and runways in an attempt to curb runway incursions. Alaska Airlines began installing EGPWS in its aircraft in the mid-1990s and recently upgraded the system to provide pilots with visual alerts for tall buildings and other man-made structures.

Class 2 EFB

navAero, of Chicago, said its tBagC2-squared Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) received FAA Supplemental Type Certification (STC) as a Class 2 EFB on the Boeing 757-200/300 series. The STC validates the EFB as a Class 2 system capable of deploying Jeppesen Airport Moving Map software.

"With the FAA’s aggressive and forward-looking Capstone 3 initiative to help minimize the potential of runway incursions by encouraging airlines to adopt widespread deployment of EFB systems, navAero is at the forefront of the industry in having a STC that includes the capability for the deployment of Jeppesen’s Airport Moving Map technology, and it is available today," said navAero spokesman Ken Crowhurst.

Issued Aug. 11, the STC includes cross-connected dual tBag C2 EFB systems with tPad 1500 display. The systems feature a navAero-designed UMTS/HSDPA (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System/High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) 3G cellular modem for on-ground data transfer, navAero ARINC 429 module, and custom software enabling the Airport Moving Map application.

Executed in cooperation with engineering firm U.S. Technical, of Fullerton, Calif., the STC is the most sophisticated certification yet achieved for the EFB, navAero said.

"We are tremendously excited about achieving this highly complex STC for our Class 2 EFB system," Crowhurst said. "With this certification, the navAero tBag C2 Class 2 EFB computer and display technology gives B757 operators the ability to bring highly sophisticated technology to the flight deck at an affordable cost."

Using the Windows XP Professional operating system, the tBag C2 hardware can also be utilized for running airline-specific software applications. Video surveillance, document libraries and real-time weather services can also be integrated.

CRJ1000 Flies

Bombardier Aerospace on Sept. 3 announced the first flight of a prototype CRJ1000 NextGen twinjet from its facility at Mirabel, Québec, Canada.

The flight, crewed by pilots Jacques Thibaudeau and Chuck Ellis and flight-test engineer Eugene Lardizabal, lasted three hours and 25 minutes. The aircraft reached an altitude of 30,000 feet and a maximum speed of 260 knots.

Designed to carry 86 to 100 passengers, the CRJ1000 NextGen is aimed at upper-end regional airlines, with 63 firm orders, conditional orders and options reported at the time of the first flight. Powered by GE CF34 engines, the aircraft will be equipped with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 avionics and a Honeywell EGPWS, among other systems ( Avionics, May 2008, page 26).

After additional flights from Mirabel, the prototype was to be flown to Bombardier’s Flight Test Center in Wichita, Kan., to begin type certification. The CRJ1000 NextGen is slated to enter commercial service in fourth quarter of 2009.

Data Network

Thales and Proximetry, a wireless network software provider based in San Diego, announced plans to formulate a new aircraft data and content transmission service that promises to increase transfer speeds for airlines.

The new "Transmax" service is the operational element of GateSync, a network developed jointly by Thales and Proximetry, that moves data to and from the aircraft at speeds of 25 to 50 times faster than other commercial services without human intervention on aircraft, the companies say.

TransMax will offer airlines, airport authorities and other airport and aircraft-related companies a turnkey wireless data service capable of covering the airport property and augmenting existing wireless data services. TransMax is being formed to deploy and operate the ground-based wireless service for Thales’s in-flight entertainment (IFE) customers as well as non-IFE applications, such as EFB and aircraft operational and administration applications.

"TransMax is the culmination of over 30 months of demonstrations, field testing and integration of wireless capabilities that are now proven," said Brad Foreman, CEO of Thales Avionics.

Audio Boost

Thales said it will integrate Virtual Surround Sound technology (V3D) from Phitek Systems, of Auckland, New Zealand, into its TopSeries in-flight entertainment system. The audio system integration will provide passengers with a "more robust, high-fidelity audio surround sound," Thales said.

V3D comprises three audio enhancement layers which provide "binaural" audio reproduction for audio content across all formats, Thales said.

AP Avionx Formed

AP Labs, of San Diego, in September announced the launch of a new business unit, AP Avionx, to supply integrated hardware systems for the in-flight entertainment and communication market. The announcement was made at the World Airline Entertainment Association conference in Long Beach, Calif.

AP Avionx works with customers who are seeking a development partner with advanced systems and packaging experience. The company offers systems designs for cockpit and cabin servers, media servers, wireless RF-based systems, wireless access points, power solutions and airborne wireless broadband systems. It has announced customer relationships with Row 44, Aircell and Verizon Airfone.

Broadband Platform

Wi-SKY LLC, Richmond, Va., said it secured an infusion of private equity funding in September, supporting final development of its in-flight broadband service. The funding amount was not disclosed.

The capital will bankroll the company’s acquisition of proprietary technology from DataRunway, Inc., Cupertino, Calif., a broadband radio development company. Wi-SKY said it has patents pending for the vertical application of next-generation wireless (4G) communication with aircraft. DataRunway has provisional patents on proprietary enhancements to 4G radio technology that will enable high-speed data transmission with aircraft utilizing unlicensed spectrum. Wi-SKY’s platform operates in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum.

Wi-SKY said it successfully flight-tested the technology in 2007, achieving 1.1 Mbps upload and 1.1 Mbps download to a jet. The company planned to demonstrate throughput of more than 10 Mbps to an aircraft in the fourth quarter.

EADS-Geotest Alliance

EADS North America Test and Services, Irvine, Calif., and Geotest, also of Irvine, created a strategic alliance for joint development of digital test instrumentation for commercial, aerospace and military applications.

The partnership, announced in September at the Autotestcon conference in Salt Lake City, will focus on the EADS’s Talon Instruments family of T964 digital test instruments. Geotest will implement the T964 in the more compact PXI industry standard form factor.

T964 test instruments in the PXI standard can be deployed for a variety of uses, from the replacement of legacy automated test equipment to production testing for both circuit board and component-level products, the companies said.

Antenna Partnership

TECOM Industries, Thousand Oaks, Calif., and German antenna developer Quantenelektronische Systeme GmbH (QEST) partnered to jointly produce and market airborne broadband antennas. Under the agreement, QEST’s contribution will include core RF components such as the antenna aperture and signal processing modules. TECOM is responsible for overall systems engineering, antenna positioning and control subsystems, product qualification and certification, in addition to after sales support.

"The combined strengths of the two individual companies will ensure that all technical and commercial customer requirements are met, thus creating a highly competitive product," stated Michael Stobinski, QEST director of sales and marketing.

Airshow Enhanced

Rockwell Collins announced new software enhancements to its Airshow 4200 and 4200D Moving Map Display and Flight Information System.

New features include Atlas Maps Expansion, Point of Interest Panels, real-time 3-D day/night animation and additional map resolutions.

The Atlas Maps, available for North America and Europe, are one of three available map styles featuring interstates, major highways and their associated icon markers as a layer on top of a topographic map, Rockwell Collins said.

Point of Interest panels, triggered by the current location of the aircraft, will present image and text information about various points-of-interest along the flight route.

Gogo Canada

Air Canada in September revealed plans to offer Aircell’s Gogo in-flight mobile broadband service on A319s flying into the United States.

The airline expects to begin initial deployment of the service by next spring. American Airlines launched the service in August and Delta Airlines said it plans to outfit its fleet with the service by 2009.

dPAVES IFE

Rockwell Collins said its dPAVES in-flight entertainment (IFE) system is now an option on Airbus single-aisle airliners. The system will be included in the Airbus Buyer Furnished Equipment Catalog as an option. Low-fare U.K. carrier easyJet in June started operating an Airbus A321 equipped with dPAVES. The easyJet system includes 10-inch retractable LCD displays and Airshow 4200 Moving Map. The system will be installed on up to 13 additional easyJet aircraft.

RAIM Report

Jeppesen, Englewood, Colo., received operational approved from FAA for its Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring (RAIM) prediction report, a technology developed to access the integrity of GPS signals and the accuracy of airborne GPS equipment.

Effective Oct. 1, FAA is requesting aircraft operators and pilots who operate in U.S. terminal and enroute RNAV environments, and who use GPS as a primary navigation method, and obtain a RAIM prediction report before the flight. RAIM prediction will be mandated by July 1.

According to Jeppesen, other RAIM prediction services are available, but none are integrated with the flight-planning system. With the Jeppesen report, if any section of the route has an outage lasting longer than five minutes, the section of the route and time frame are highlighted, requiring the route to be re-planned.

Row 44 Features In-Flight Broadband System At WAEA Conference

According to a recent article in The New York Times, an average businessman flies nearly 114,500 miles every 10 years. Considering the recorded speed of a Boeing 777 of 553 miles an hour, that adds up to 207 hours off the ground.

While in the air for so long, the options have traditionally been sleeping, watching feature films, reading or talking to the passenger nearby. But business today can’t wait. A constant connection with partners, the office and family is needed while traveling.

Row 44, of Westlake Village, Calif., founded in 2004, is a company that believes checking the e-mail can’t wait until landing. "No longer will ‘in-flight’ mean ‘incommunicado,’" declares Gregg Fialcowitz, Row 44 president and co-founder, on the company’s Web site.

The in-flight broadband solution Row 44 has developed to accomplish this goal uses the existing HughesNet Ku-band satellite Internet service. System components include a low-profile, Ku antenna mounted atop the fuselage, and a High-Power Amplifier (HPA), both manufactured by Aerosat Corp., of Amherst, N.H. Located directly below the antenna radome, the HPA is connected to a series of additional boxes bolted beside it — an Antenna Control Unit (ACU), Server Management Unit (SMU) and Modem Data Unit (MDU). Row 44 selected AP Labs, of San Diego, to produce the SMU and MDU.

The interior hardware connects to Cabin Wireless LAN Units, which supply the cabin with a Wi-Fi signal. Altogether, the system weighs 150 pounds and can be installed in "two aircraft overnights," Row 44 says.

The company has tested the system using software that simulates multiple simultaneous users, an application that would be increased to simulate "hundreds of passengers" performing different data-related functions while online. During the tests, system modems supported Internet traffic at 4 Mbps, a rate that was expected to increase to 10 Mbps with improvements set to be introduced by satellite provider Hughes.

In September, Row 44 conducted briefings on the in-flight broadband system during the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) Annual Conference & Exhibition in Long Beach, Calif. (Also in September, AP Labs announced an initial production order from Row 44 for broadband system components.)

The company had installed the system in a Grumman HU-16 Albatross amphibian, but did not yet have the expected Federal Communications Commission clearance to transmit a Wi-Fi signal in flight.

Flight trials of the Row 44 system by Boeing 737 operator Alaska Airlines were expected to begin within weeks of the WAEA conference. Depending on its performance, the system was to be outfitted on several aircraft by October, leading ultimately to fleetwide deployment. Trials on four Southwest Airlines 737s were to follow, with expected service availability by Thanksgiving. Southwest also plans fleetwide deployment, according to Row 44.

The cabin Wi- Fi service is predicted to be very affordable. Row 44 said it suggests to airline customers a charge of $8 for flights of three hours duration. Actual prices may vary.

Row 44’s founding principle is to make the flight experience enjoyable, even to passengers in the back of the plane (such as Row 44 in a DC-10). If the flight trials of its broadband system are successful, as the company expects, the feeling the aircraft has never left the ground will become more realistic. Important tasks that can’t wait until landing will be done in flight. — Alina Ossipova


Military

FAB-T Prototype

Boeing in September said it delivered a prototype of its next-generation Family of Advanced Beyond line-of-sight Terminals (FAB-T) to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Mass.

Delivery of the radio completed a key hardware and software risk reduction requirement for FAB-T Increment 2 under a program funded by the U.S. Air Force.

Lincoln Laboratory will use the prototype to continue developing the DVB-S2 based waveform for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions over Ka-band satcom.

FAB-T will provide military forces with a secure, multi-mission-capable family of software-defined radios that use satellites to exchange information between ground, air and space platforms such as the B-2, B-52, command post terminals and Global Hawk UAV. It will be capable of hosting waveforms that can accommodate data rates in excess of 300 megabits per second, Boeing said.

Boeing planned to begin deliveries of engineering development modules later this year for the first FAB-T increment, fulfilling operational requirements for the Milstar and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite systems.

Airborne Laser

Prime contractor Boeing, industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Sept. 7 achieved the "first light" milestone in development of the Airborne Laser (ABL), firing a high-energy chemical laser onboard the ABL aircraft for the first time during ground testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The start of laser firings marked the completion of a 10-month effort to install and integrate the high-energy laser and prepare it for testing, said Mike Rinn, ABL vice president and program director.

The ABL will provide capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. The ABL aircraft is a modified Boeing 747-400F whose back half holds the high-energy laser, designed and built by Northrop Grumman. The aircraft’s front section contains the beam control/fire control system, developed by Lockheed Martin, and the battle management system, provided by Boeing.

The high-energy laser will undergo a series of additional ground tests, building toward lethal levels of duration and power. The laser first will be fired into an onboard calorimeter, which captures the beam and measures its power. The laser then will be sent through the beam control/fire control system, exiting the aircraft through the nose-mounted turret.

Ground firings of the laser will be followed by flight tests of the entire ABL weapon system, culminating in an airborne intercept test against a ballistic missile in 2009.

AWACS Upgrade

Boeing in September said it completed mission system flight testing for the Block 40/45 upgrade of the United States E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet.

Under the Block 40/45 program, the aircraft’s legacy mainframe computer has been replaced with an open system architecture using network servers. A multisource integration capability automates the process of detecting and identifying targets. Outgoing tasking messages are automatically prioritized via a data link infrastructure, Boeing said.

The U.S. Air Force was expected to make a decision on a Block 40/45 production contract by the end of the year.

‘Remote Guardian’ Defensive System Flies On Marine Corps Tiltrotor

BAE Systems in September said its Remote Guardian System (RGS), an all-quadrant, remotely operated defensive weapon system, had been cleared for live fire in flight on the V-22 tiltrotor, other than in hover mode. It is the first software-controlled weapon certified by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, the company said.

The belly-mounted RGS is comprised of an IR/CCD sensor and weapon turret (shown deployed in graphic at bottom right), a weapon control computer, motor control unit and a handheld controller and display. It uses the 7.62 mm Dillon Aero M134D minigun, which can be slewed to 12 cardinal settings based on the aircraft’s heading.

The stabilized sight provides real-time lead and elevation compensation, generating a continuously computed impact point. "The gunner simply points and shoots," says BAE, while the weapon control computer adjusts the gun to compensate for wind and vehicle motion.

Designed as a mission kit to minimize integration with the aircraft, and compatible with V-22 avionics, the system weighs 800 pounds with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, said John Nix, vice president of BAE Defense Avionics Business Development, in Johnson City, N.Y.

The RGS will be installed on Marine Corps MV-22s (photo, top) and Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22s, providing 360-degree suppressive fire. Nix said BAE also has evaluated system installation on the CH-47 Chinook. "We have done the measurements and we have done an integration plan," he said. — Bill Carey

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