Cockpit Upgrade to the Rescue

By Ron Sherman | December 1, 2000
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Little more than three years ago, Lt. Cmdr. (now Commander) Mark Butt was the first person to research the possibility of acquiring a much needed avionics upgrade for the aging U.S. Coast Guard HH-65A Dolphin short-range rescue and recovery helicopter. The conundrum was to continue to operate old 1970s technology equipment or go with new, state-of-the-art technology.

The Dolphin entered service in 1984, and the fleet of nearly 100 aircraft has accumulated some 600,000 flight hours and 400,000 missions. The HH-65A’s original avionics package "is 25 years old and developing significant reliability problems," says the program manager for integrated solutions in Rockwell Collins’ government systems sector who, ironically, is named John Dolphin. "It has become very challenging for the Coast Guard to maintain."

"Our repair program for our current avionics is extremely costly," Butt adds. "The new technology promised a built-in MTBF [mean time between failures] of at least 5,000 hours, while the old equipment’s MTBF is well below 500 hours," he says.

Butt was the HH-65 product line manager at the Coast Guard’s Aircraft Repair and Supply Center (ARSC), Elizabeth City, N.C. He is now ARSC’s executive officer.

Selecting Collins

What followed was a selection process that included new equipment from several contractors. The Coast Guard settled on Rockwell Collins for two reasons: cutting edge technology combined with an overall less costly product expense that included integration, a power-by-the-hour program, and a contract that provided incentive for continual product improvement at the contractor’s expense.

The integrated product team (IPT) that provided the upgrade program’s vital backbone consisted of Butts, Dolphin, Lt. Cmdr. Steve Truhlar and Lt. Chip Hatfield. Truhlar is the project officer representing the operations side and is based at the Coast Guard’s training center in Mobile, Ala. Hatfield is the engineering project officer at the ARSC.

The upgrade program is basically an integrated flight management avionics suite utilizing Rockwell Collins equipment. It consists of two each control display units (CDU-900G) and two each multifunction flat panel displays (MFD-255). The CDU-900G includes embedded GPS capability. The Coast Guard and Rockwell Collins designed and developed the off-the-shelf hardware and mission-specific software.

Each CDU is 6-by-8 inches (15-by-20 cm), including keyboard, and 9 inches (23 cm) deep. Dolphin says the CDU-900 is a standard product developed for the U.S. Air Force and provided to nearly all the military services. The MFD is 5-by-5 inches (12.7-by-12.7 cm). All current avionics, except for the flight management upgrade, remains the same on the aircraft.

The CDU-900 provides the Coast Guard with powerful built-in processing capability and expansion capacity for embedded functions or interfaces to external equipment. In addition to the GPS expansion module, additional modules include memory, various digital/analog, and modem/data link.

The MFD-255 features a full complement of flight instrument software, including: attitude director indicator (ADI), horizontal situation indicator (HSI), primary flight director, and map. The RS 170 video option is part of the Coast Guard program. The MFD-255 is programmed in Ada, and the active liquid crystal design provides for high reliability and easy maintenance.

The significance of the HH-65 upgrade is the complex flight management software developed covering mission specific operational flight profile requirements. As each aircraft’s upgrade is completed, the HH-65A becomes model HH-65B.

Hatfield helped to develop the new systems’ software (see sidebar on page 19). In the process, his office published more than 80,000 pages of documentation.

The MFD-255 is programmed to display all major navigation, weather and terrain mission information. Like the CDU, it includes an all-systems alerting program. For future growth, the MFD will include video and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) capability, depending on budget availability. The MFD and CDUs are programmed to communicate with each other and continually update to provide the aircrew with increased situational awareness. The MFD-255 pages include: flight plan, hover, navigation/map and weather radar.

Providing the A-Kit

The original software specifications were developed in the Rockwell Collins mock-up lab. These were required to pass formal qualification tests of the hardware and system software, according to Dolphin.

Rockwell Collins also developed a wiring harness and procedure to follow for installation, all unique to the HH-65. "We have installed an A-kit prototype on the test aircraft at ARSC," he says. The contract calls for integration of the new upgrade on 96 HH-65 aircraft.

Once the flight test is completed, Rockwell Collins will provide A-kit hardware and software to ARSC for each aircraft upgrade. The technicians at ARSC will complete the installation work with some contractor assistance. Following the two-month flight test phase, the aircraft prototype will undergo electromagnetic interference/compatibility (EMI/EMC) testing for one month at the U.S. Navy’s Flight Test Center, Patuxent NAS, Md.

Test flights began on June 20. Each test flight–lasting up to three hours–is crewed by a combination of USCG project officers and Rockwell Collins engineers. The flight test crews have included, Butt, Hatfield, Truhlar, Matthew Mulbrook (lead systems engineer for Rockwell Collins) and Bill Shepard, a retired Coast Guard master chief petty officer. Shepard, Rockwell Collins’ technical director for the project, was a part of the contract negotiating team that also included Dolphin, Butt, Hatfield and Truhlar, among others.

The ARSC schedules a complete overhaul for each HH-65A every four years, and the avionics upgrade will coincide with the overhaul schedule. Total cost for the program development, procurement, and installation will run about $34 million. The unit cost to integrate each aircraft is $354,000, not including down time and training.

In addition to being operations project officer, Truhlar is an HH-65 standardization instructor and chief of the HH-65A’s training support section. He began working on the training procedures for the avionics upgrade more than two years ago.

"We must be ready with our training program by the time the first aircraft is fielded, towards the end of this year," he says. The training program included assistance from Rockwell Collins and technical writers from within the Coast Guard. In addition, experienced Coast Guard instructor pilots working in the Performance Technology branch are helping with both instructional design and academic requirements, and an expert in interactive computer training is assisting the effort.

"The shear length of the four-year upgrade installation program is creating recurrent training issues," says Truhlar, "It’s a judgment call as to what our available resources will be in the future." Some pilots will be trained in the HH-65B immediately, however, they must also be retained in the 65A pool to cover mission requirements. Eventually, the entire fleet will be upgraded and the full pilot complement will be trained. It will be a long process. There are 400 HH-65A pilots based at 18 Dolphin units in the United States.

The core of the training will include trainees utilizing interactive computer courseware at least two weeks prior to attending ground school. Ground school will be accomplished at the units by instructors from the training center. At least two flights will be necessary to type rate pilots in the HH-65B.

"The size and length of the program provides us with quite a challenge. At this time, we have six performance technology experts [three who are pilots with considerable time in the HH-65A] working full-time on the program," says Truhlar. He also notes a plan to upgrade the current HH-65A simulator to the HH-65B. That change, however, will not take place until the Coast Guard is at least 18 months into the crew training process.

To help train technicians on the new upgrade, the Coast Guard purchased a hot bench from Rockwell Collins. In addition, the technical training section at ARSC operates an avionics simulator. While the simulator is in the HH-65A configuration, plans exist to upgrade it to the 65B configuration. The technical school currently is developing a syllabus for training on the new systems.

About 50 Coast Guard personnel and 15 Rockwell Collins development managers have been involved in all aspects of the program for the past three years. The new systems will help increase the life of the HH-65 by about 10 years. An engine upgrade program has already been approved. Also, the Coast Guard is now looking hard at acquiring the same combination flight management system in other aircraft in their inventory.

Butt said this has been an efficient development program. "Working with the integrated product team has been excellent, and though this is a very complex program, we have stayed focused and worked closely with one another," he says.

The projected reliability built into the new flight management system is estimated to save the Coast Guard about $20 million over the next 10 years–mainly due to cost avoidance.

According to Hatfield, "The Coast Guard pays for itself in property saved four times over for every federally-funded dollar. The new avionics suite is nearly 100 pounds (45.4 kg) lighter, allowing for increased fuel capacity, which translates indirectly into more lives and property saved. It allows the helicopter’s crew members to look outside the aircraft during rescue missions, rather than continually managing the aircraft’s systems."

Truhlar points out another peripheral benefit of the upgrade, a reduction of about 25% in the size of the helicopter’s avionics bay. This creates more maneuvering room for rescue litters in the cabin.

The HH-65B engineering and operational development team is justly proud of their accomplishment. The Dolphin modernization program will pay huge dividends for the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, part of the team is splitting up. Hatfield is departing the ARSC to pursue a Coast Guard-sponsored M.S. degree at Purdue University. Truhlar will continue to split his time between flight testing the HH-65B prototype and working to complete the training program for the new flight management system.

Page After Page

Thanks in large part to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Lt. Chip Hatfield, the upgraded HH-65 Dolphin helicopter now has a comprehensive mission software package. The mission-specific pages contained in the control display unit software include the following:

  • Index or start page–lists all available pages and updates and indicates if the unit is working correctly.

  • Operational flight program page–allows flight information to be downloaded from a PC to a mission data loader (MDL). The MDL card is then loaded directly into the control display unit.

  • Rendez-vous page–automatically shows specific navigation and time information on rendez-vous with another aircraft or ship during a mission.

  • Waypoint page–shows way points to destination and can be updated while en route.

  • Power assurance page–constantly measures engine power requirements based on pressure, altitude and temperature readings.

  • Engine condition monitoring page–provides constant engine status/performance.

  • Navigation page–provides very detailed navigation and flight plan information to and from waypoints and destination.

  • Identification friend or foe (IFF) page–includes modes 1, 2, 3, 4 and mode C.

  • Communications page–includes FM, HF, VHF and UHF, along with voice privacy (digital encryption).

  • System status page–monitors the status of all avionics systems.

  • Mil bus 1553B page–monitors status of mil bus.

  • CDU one and two status page–monitors CDUs along with all built-in redundancies.

  • Flight plan in-progress page–provides current direction and time of each mission leg.

  • Progress page–provides current position along with fuel bingo information.

  • Avionics equipment page–provides more detailed information on systems status, including wind speed and direction.

  • Alternate flight plan page–allows crews to customize flight plans during mission to include additional sorties.

  • Hover page–gives aircrew the capability to plug in hover point to CDU page. Aircraft can then fly hands-off, turn into the wind, hover 50 feet (15 meters) off the water and 800 feet (244 meters) downwind of target. It automatically adjusts the aircraft’s position depending on need and requirement. It is conceivable to fly to a nearly blind landing while adjusting in 3-foot (1-meter) increments.

  • Customized USCG search pattern page–presents up to five standard Coast Guard search patterns and permits an on-the-fly impromptu search pattern to be entered.

  • Holding page–provides for hands-off air traffic control (ATC) position hold, left or right pattern and selectable RNav leg lengths.

  • NVG page–This night vision goggles (NVG) sweep width and calculator page provides expected visibility, size of target and altitude. It also provides recommended track spacing for optimizing search area during night missions.

HH-65 Description, Specifications

The HH-65 Dolphin is used to perform search and rescue; enforcement of laws and treaties including drug interdiction; polar ice breaking; marine environmental protection, such as pollution control, and military readiness missions. Though normally stationed ashore, the aircraft can land and take off from 210-, 270- and 378-foot Coast Guard cutters. These cutters can refuel and support the helicopter during a cutter patrol.

  • Manufacturer: Eurocopter

  • In service date: 1984

  • Rotor diameter: 39 feet, 2 inches

  • Height: 13 feet

  • Length: 44 feet, 5 inches

  • Max gross weight: 9,200 pounds

  • Empty weight: 6,092 pounds

  • Propulsion: Two Lycoming LTS-101-750B-2 gas turbines

  • Fuel capacity: 1,900 pounds

  • Max endurance: 3.5 hours

  • Max speed: 165 knots

  • Cruising speed: 120 knots

  • Max range: 300 nautical miles

  • Service ceiling (hover): 7,510 feet

  • Cargo sling capacity: 2,000 pounds

  • Rescue hoist capacity: 600 pounds

  • Crew: two pilots, one flight mechanic, one rescue swimmer

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