Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Product Focus: Displays

By Barry Rosenberg | March 1, 2008
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Consumer electronic influences and technological advances associated with the latest aircraft model types are spurring new display technologies in the cockpit. However, these advances, including 15-inch-displays and touch-screen technology, come with their own set of technical integration and durability challenges.

The 15-inch cockpit displays in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner — four across the front and one in the center console for emulation of the control display units — will reduce pilot workload and improve situational awareness. All that glass, though, is providing unique challenges for manufacturers, who must ensure that displays are affordable and maintainable while not being susceptible to single points of failure.

"Our 787 flight display is the largest primary flight display out there," said Rob McKillip, senior director of the Head Down Display Center at Rockwell Collins, which is providing the main cockpit instrumentation for the Dreamliner. "That is significant because larger displays give the folks who design the pilot interface more flexibility in where to put things like maps."

In addition to the flight deck display system, Rockwell Collins is supplying the crew alerting system, pilot controls (Avionics, June 2007, page 46) communication and surveillance systems and Common Data Network for the 787.

There are a number of key technical challenges that are associated with designing and manufacturing displays of the size going into the 787. One of the most important is reliability, and not just from the standpoint of maintainability.

"There is evidence that everybody is going bigger and bigger in terms of display size," said Andrew Carlisle, business development manager of display systems for GE Aviation, formerly Smiths Aerospace. "The challenge is to avoid a single failure on a display with multiple functionality. You have to be able to maintain the display even with the loss of a piece of equipment, which means you must build in redundancy."

Liquid crystal displays (LCD) are sensitive to pressure, which is obvious to anyone who has pushed a finger into the display of a laptop computer. Thermal and mechanical stresses related to flight can also impact the performance of LCDs.

"As displays get larger they become more sensitive to these effects," McKillip said. "All of our customers are pushing lower costs, higher reliability and lower power consumption. Reliability is in some ways driven by power consumption because as you reduce power you can simplify the box and reduce cost."

The ultimate trend driving cockpit display development is safety — regardless of whether displays are installed in single-engine turboprops or four-engine jets.

"The amount of information being created is increasing, and from a pilot/human factor perspective, you want to look at information in a relatively common format through simple processes that allow you to effectively fly the airplane," said John Davies, system architect with GE Aviation in the U.K.

But, said Davies, cost concerns come in a strong second as a driver behind the introduction of larger displays. "Less part numbers equal less cost," he said. Four displays, for example, now do the job of twice that many in the past. "The cost of a 15-inch display is not hugely different than a 10-inch display," he added.

Manufacturers have turned to light-emitting diodes (LED) instead of fluorescent lamps for display backlights as a way to reduce power consumption. Rockwell Collins, for example, switched to LEDs in 2001 and is now on its fifth-generation backlight technology, McKillip said.

"We’re seeing tremendous advances in the commercial market for LEDs that have higher luminescence and lower power," he said. "Because the industry is changing so rapidly, what was state-of-the-art (last year) isn’t state-of-the-art anymore."

In fact, some industry executives believe the aerospace industry has clearly been surpassed by the commercial electronics industry when it comes to things like displays. "Aerospace used to consider itself a leader in (display) technology; we’re a bit of a follower now," Carlisle said.

One of the technologies that made a splash at the latest Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was television screens based on organic light emitting diodes (OLED), which Carlisle describes as "the next step change in technology." With OLEDs, light comes from a thin film of organic compounds that are excited by an electric current.

"With OLEDs you don’t need a backlight," said Carlisle. "It offers a much better picture quality, much faster response. Blacks are blacker, and whites are whiter."

Once issues of cost, reliability and manufacturing are resolved, it is only a matter of time before cockpit displays are illuminated with OLEDs.

But relying on commercial electronics technology for aviation doesn’t make the industry any less exciting to some aerospace engineers.

"I’ve been working in displays since 1984. Back then, you had to do everything yourself; nearly everything was custom," said McKillip. "Now you can buy products that are complete. You would think that would be bad for excitement, but because we’re able to offer products at a lower price we can expand the market. There are so many more applications for which we can now provide products."

As proof of that growth, McKillip said Rockwell Collins sold 13,000 avionics-grade LCDs in 2007, many of them destined for the retrofit market.

Future Features

For the future, flight display manufacturers are likely to continue taking their cues from the commercial electronics market, particularly from revolutionary new products like Apple’s touch-screen iPhone. Touch screens would provide a more intuitive interface than that offered by today’s cursor-based point-and-click products.

"The mindset right now is on ruggedized touch screens," said McKillip. "Traditionally they’ve been highly reflective and not very rugged. You see some touch screens for fighter applications and there’s a small data display on the 747, but they’ve not been widely adopted. Apple iPhone technology is becoming pervasive across the consumer markets and our customers are very interested in that.

"We’re working to lower reflectivity so they can be used as a primary flight display, and developing a coating to more easily clean fingerprints. We think we now have touch screens ready to put into products. Two years from now you’ll see adoption" of touch screens.

Belgium’s Barco unveiled a version of its CHDD-268 primary flight and mission display featuring touch screen technology last June. The company said its technology overcomes the typical drawbacks of conventional touch screen devices, such as limited viewing angles, low reliability and disturbing reflections.

The CHDD-268 is optimized for a variety of video applications, including FLIR, mission display, weather display, enhanced vision systems, moving map applications and primary flight applications. The display has a sunlight-readable, NVG compliant 6-by-8-inch, AMLCD screen featuring LED backlight technology.

Displays that provide three-dimensional imagery are also not so far off on the horizon. More fantastical, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility, is the day when a single display will span from the left side of the cockpit to the right.

"The trend is to larger and larger displays and we’ll (one day) have displays that cost-effectively allow us to fill the cockpit," said McKillip. "The way to continue the trend of reducing cost and improving reliability is to reduce the number of LRUs. If you imagine that going to its extreme, the maximum number of boxes you would have would be one. You’ll see more and more things integrated onto that display. Just as you’ll see in the consumer market, you’ll see more and more things integrated onto the glass."

Large displays are good; so is greater integration. That’s the case with Honeywell’s recently introduced Integrated Primary Flight Display (IPFD) for business aviation.

The IPFD integrates a Synthetic Vision System (SVS) with tactical cues that pilots already understand to provide them with a VFR visual environment regardless of the time of day or weather conditions. The display uses Honeywell’s Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning system data base and head-up display symbology. Combined, they give pilots a continuous window of situational awareness of their flight path, terrain and navigational environment.

"It’s more like flying the aircraft while looking out the window because pilots can absorb information on the display at a faster rate," said Chad Cundiff, Honeywell vice president of crew interface products. "We’re trying to replicate the cues that the pilot would get looking out the window because most pilots spend 90 percent of their time flying in visual conditions. With IPFD we’re making the interface more user friendly. Usability drives situation awareness and situation awareness drives safety. That’s where we’re trying to get to with this product."

Honeywell also is taking the concept down to turboprop and light-to-midsize business jets with its recently introduced "Primus Apex" integrated flight deck system, which brings the capabilities of its Primus Epic system down to another class of aircraft. Primus Apex has been TSO’d for the Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop.

"This introduces glass to markets that haven’t been able to afford glass flight displays," said Cundiff. "The difference between IPFD and Apex is in the way they’re operated. An owner-operator flies the Pilatus rather than professional flight crew members. Apex makes it easier for owner-operators who have to accomplish certain tasks while flying the aircraft."

Rockwell Collins’ 15-inch displays are part of its newly introduced "ProLine Fusion" avionics for regional and business aviation. Last November, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries selected ProLine Fusion for its under-development Mitsubishi Regional Jet, and prior to that Bombardier chose it for the Global Express XRS and Global 5000.

Avionics Magazine’s Product Focus is a monthly feature that examines some of the latest product offerings in different market segments of the avionics industry. It does not represent a comprehensive survey of all companies and products in these markets.

Market Moves

Following are some recent developments announced by display manufacturers and airframers.

  • Barco, based in Kortrijk, Belgium, was selected to supply LCD-based multifunction cockpit displays for Honeywell. The displays will serve as upgrades for CRT-based displays used with Honeywell’s Primus 1000, 2000, 2000XP, SPZ-8400, 8500 and SPZ-8000 avionics systems Also, last September, Barco received European Technical Standard Order-C113 authorization for the 10-inch primary flight displays used in Honeywell’s Primus Apex integrated flight deck. The KDU-1080 will be integrated in various business jet applications including the Grob spn and Pilatus PC-12.

  • Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S), Exton, Pa., signed a contract worth up to $16 million to supply flat-panel cockpit displays on Boeing 757s. IS&S said the undisclosed international cargo carrier will pay a minimum of $6.8 million for displays, with an option to increase that value.For fiscal 2007, IS&S said its flat panel display system orders reached $55 million, an increase of nearly $37 million over the previous year. The company’s backlog was $70.4 million, with the flat-panel portion representing $63 million. That was nearly 250 percent more than the previous year, IS&S said.

  • France’s Thales was selected in October by European turboprop aircraft manufacturer ATR to provide the avionics suite for its new ATR 42-600 and ATR 72-600 aircraft. Thales will supply the glass flight deck, including five LCD displays, as well as other avionics.

  • FAA in December certified the Avio NG avionics suite of the Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet manufactured by Eclipse Aviation, of Albuquerque, N.M. According to Eclipse, Avio NG will provide customers with higher primary flight and multifunction display resolution, enhanced user interface features and four-color weather radar.

  • Piper Aircraft, Vero Beach, Fla., in October selected the "Entegra" integrated flight deck from Avidyne, of Lincoln, Mass., as standard equipment on its new Piper Malibu Matrix piston single. In September, Avidyne’s "Envision" integrated flight deck was selected for retrofit installation in Cessna 210 and T210 Centurion single-engine pistons. In July, Avidyne and S-TEC Corp. said they were working on supplemental type certification of the "Alliant" integrated flight deck on the Cessna Conquest II twin-engine turboprop.

  • FAA in November granted a STC for the Garmin G1000 avionics suite on the King Air C90A/GT, Garmin’s first G1000 retrofit STC. The G1000 integrates primary flight information, navigation data, communications, terrain awareness, traffic, weather and engine instruments on a 15-inch multifunction display and two 10.4-inch primary flight displays.In September, Piper Aircraft selected a Garmin glass-cockpit suite for its single-engine PiperJet, which is scheduled for delivery in 2010. The G1000 was selected by EADS Socata for its single-engine TBM 850 turboprop.

Luxell Technologies, of Toronto, entered into a strategic teaming agreement with IRTS Corp. of Toulon, France, to jointly pursue sales and marketing opportunities in North America and Europe with a particular focus on flat-panel displays for the aerospace, defense and commercial industries.

  • Aerosonic Corp., Clearwater, Fla., purchased Op Technologies, an Oregon-based developer and manufacturer of cockpit glass display solutions, in August. Op produces a series of cockpit display solutions for experimental aircraft, including the Pegasus Integrated Avionics System. Op has been developing similar products for FAA-certified aircraft.


Aerosonic Corp.
AMETEK Aerospace
Applied Display Technology
Argon Corp.
Aspen Avionics
Astronautics Corporation of America
Avalex Technologies Corp.
Avidyne Corp.
Avionics Support Group, Inc.
BAE Systems
CMC Electronics, Inc.
DAC International, Inc.
DuPont Display Solutions
Flight Display Systems
Garmin International
GE Aviation
Goodrich Corp.
IDD Aerospace Corp.
Innovative Solutions & Support, Inc.
Interface Displays & Controls, Inc.
Jewell Instruments
JP Instruments, Inc.
Kollsman, Inc.
Korry Electronics
L-3 Communications
Leach International North America
Luma Technologies
Luxell Technologies, Inc.
Meggitt Avionics
NAT Seattle, Inc.
navAero, Inc.
Page Aerospace, Inc.
Paramount Panels, Inc.
Rockwell Collins
Sagem Avionics, Inc.
Sandel Avionics
Southern Star Avionics
Spectralux Corp.
Staco Switch
Sun Dial and Panel Corp.
Teledyne Controls
Thomas Electronics, Inc.
Universal Avionics Systems Corp.

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