Military EFBs

By Barry Rosenberg | November 1, 2007
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A good five years behind commercial aviation in embracing electronic flight bags (EFB), the military appears to be on the cusp of a revolution that will see the display technology become a common retrofit in cockpit upgrade programs for transport aircraft and as a regular feature in glass cockpits of newer planes.

Evidence of that potential came in September when Airbus Military said the cockpit of its A400M tactical transport, now under development, will include an EFB.

"We have just recently gotten the national customers to agree that the flight bag for the A400M will be an electronic flight bag," said an Airbus Military spokesman. "There will be no paper delivered with the A400M except a quick reference handbook."

In addition to a reduction in paper documentation that runs into tons of cumulative weight and all the associated costs, there are a number of performance improvements that EFBs bring to military transports, as well as their companion cargo aircraft in the commercial sector.

"One way the electronic flight bag will play a role in the military will be through a combination of displaying specific mission information and traditional EFB-type jobs," said Bill Ruhl, manager of military business development for Astronautics Corp. of America, Milwaukee, Wis. "EFBs can provide the military with a low-cost way to display mission information."

EFBs being tested by the military are generally of the same type as those designed for passenger and cargo carriers, either: (1) relatively inexpensive commercial off-the-shelf Class 1 devices that are carried on and off the aircraft; (2) commercial Class 2 devices with some connectivity to cockpit systems; or (3) avionics-grade Class 3 devices consisting of one or two pieces (a display unit and remote host computer) that talk directly to the flight management system.

Typically the military wants the functionality of a Class 2 or Class 3 EFB, but with the cost structure of a carry-on unit, something it can do because the military is not bound by civilian regulations.

"The primary difference between commercial airlines and the military is that they’re not required to certify a Type C application," said Ruhl, referring to applications that are subject to FAA airworthiness requirements in the commercial world. At the same time, though, there is little need at the moment for the military to run Type C applications, which can be hosted only on more expensive Class 3 EFBs.

"The military has FalconView, which already overlays the aircraft’s position on a map and is used on Class 1 and 2 EFBs," said Ruhl. FalconView is a Windows 95 and Windows NT mapping system, developed by Georgia Tech Research Institute, that displays maps and geographically referenced overlays.

"They don’t need a Class 3-certified Type C application," he added. "They only need a Class 2 for their mission. What that does for them is reduce expense because the cost of a Class 2 EFB is significantly lower than Class 3."

Even with the ability to host applications on less-expensive EFBs, the product’s penetration into the military market is just now beginning.

"The uptake has been fairly limited so far," said Jeff Geraci, vice president of business development for Advanced Data Research, Rochester Hills, Minn., a hardware manufacturer. "There are two big reasons why. The first is that the charting data from the (Department of Defense) approach plates is not yet digitized. We’ll see a migration once the DoD is digitized.

"The second issue is one of distribution. How do we get updates and digital information to the devices? Do you have a guy running around with a bunch or CDs or a thumb drive? Maybe you do it with wireless with automatic uploads, but that infrastructure is not yet developed."

The result is that only one out of 10 EFBs sold by Advanced Data Research goes to the military, according to Geraci.

"It goes back to the availability of electronic charts and an unwillingness to utilize equipment that is not Mil-Spec," said Geraci. "The military is looking for more ruggedization."

The military also desires brightly lit displays and big, easy-to-use buttons.

"One of the advantages we have in the military arena is the fact that we have bezeled function keys," said Ruhl, speaking of Astronautics’ EFB products. "Military pilots must activate the units with gloves on and a lot of off-the-shelf, Class 2 EFBs are touchscreen. It doesn’t work for these guys; they need a key or button to push."

While EFB market potential for new-production military transports is fairly limited — the C-17 line is almost closed and the Army and Air Force plan to buy only 78 C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft from L-3 Communications and Alenia North America — the market outlook for modernization programs offers promise.

EFBs have come on the scene too late to make the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP), for example, but every military modernization program in the future is likely to include an EFB.

"A lot of the avionics upgrade programs are just rolling out now," said Scott Powell, commercial and military EFB product manager for Jeppesen. "When you put something on a military aircraft it is usually part of some large command-wide procurement. There’s not an EFB on the C-130 AMP, but that program is 10 years old. Avionics modernization programs in the future, however, will most likely have an EFB."

For now, only the lack of a "killer app" is holding the market back.

"For the military, that will be an airport moving map because the runway incursion problem is just as prevalent in the military as it is in the commercial space," said Powell.

"Another critical capability will be the situational awareness map with military specific information like threats and mission information. And then there are the no-brainers: charts, electronic documents, approach information, situational awareness."

In 1996, The Royal Netherlands Air Force was named as the military launch customer of Jeppesen’s Class 1 EFB "Total Mission Solution." The devices are used by the RNLAF’s 334 Squadron on a mixed fleet of eight C-130, Fokker 50, Gulfstream GIV, DC-10 and KDC-10 aircraft at Eindhoven Air Base.

Among applications installed or planned for the 17 devices ordered by the RNLAF are a terminal chart display, PDF chart viewer, enroute moving map and document browser. Hardware includes the Panasonic CF-18 "Toughbook" laptop computer and NavAero kneeboard touchscreen.

Classified Server

Another way to peak the interest of the military is to give EFBs a role in displaying red (classified) and black (unclassified) information to the cockpit, Astronautics’ Ruhl said.

"The military can’t leave classified information on an airplane and must be able to destroy it if necessary. One of the ways to address that requirement is to have a server on the aircraft handle classified information. The server drives the EFB display so it acts as just a dumb display.

"At the same time, though, the pilot still wants the EFB capabilities. So we’re talking about taking a Class 2 EFB and segregating it. It will be driven with classified information and nothing is stored on the EFB, but it still has the charts and mission functionality that the pilot wants. The Air Mobility Command is looking at that type of integration in the future."

EFB Opportunity In Cargo Aircraft

"What we have seen to date is that the needs of cargo carriers are virtually identical to the needs of passenger carriers," said Ken Crowhurst, executive vice president and managing director of NavAero, which manufactures Class 1 and 2 EFBs designed for Windows-based applications. "That is, a platform to help them conduct flights more effectively by electronically creating the data they need rather than rely on paper forms."

Everyone recognizes the value of EFBs; now they just have to figure out the logistics and push through what can be a tedious regulatory process.

"Due to the fact that the FAA guidance document is relatively new, the question taking place in the industry is how do we do it, how do we actually implement an EFB program? Crowhurst asked. "The FAA is becoming more responsive in helping operators with operational issues. It took one of our launch customers one and a half years to get through operational hurdles and proof of concept. There are a handful of early adopters, but this is still very much an emerging technology."

Executives at Quebec-based CMC Electronics see the same trend, and estimate EFBs have only a 5-percent penetration of the cargo market.

"I think it would be safe to say that a number of cargo operators are using charting applications and electronic flight bags in ad hoc installations, but they’re not mature enough to meet mission objectives," said Jean-Marie Begis, director of EFBs for CMC, which introduced the Class 2 "TacView" portable mission display and EFB at the Paris Air Show in June.

With a 5-inch-by-7-inch, sunlight readable screen, TacView is large enough to display full-size instrument approach charts, checklists and moving maps, CMC says. It features an integrated sliding keyboard, touch-sensitive screen and bezel keys for operator interface flexibility. TacView is based on CMC’s commercial "PilotView" EFB. PilotView was selected by the Australian Air Force for dual installation on three C-130s, and also is installed on the Air National Guard C-32 (B757).

"What we’ve seen in the last year is that cargo operators have come to realize that to get an EFB working they need to address installation, long-term support and the right applications," said Begis. "At the same time, though, they’re coming to realize that portable mission displays are an essential part of aircraft operations."

Goodrich is hoping that its "video-on-EFB" capability will convince more cargo operators to jump into the water. The company is the leader in video surveillance systems, with more than 4,000 systems installed on about 80 airlines. Why not display that surveillance imagery on an EFB, company executives ask.

"You can conduct real-time monitoring of the cargo bay," explained Goodrich commercial aftermarket business development director Jim Schmitz. "Instead of calling the cargo master to see how things are going they can take a peek into the hold."

Other possible video applications that can be hosted on an EFB include the monitoring of live animals in the cargo hold and providing visual confirmation of a smoke alarm. — Barry Rosenberg

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