Navigation System Supplier Aims To Make WAAS More Available, Affordable

The new owners of FreeFlight Systems, based in Waco, Texas, are dedicated to the proposition that satellite navigation from a cost perspective can be brought down to earth.

Founded in 2001 through the acquisition of Trimble Navigation’s business and commuter aircraft avionics division, FreeFlight Systems supplies GPS/WAAS sensors, GPS navigation systems and radar altimeters. In July, a new management team led by former Elbit Systems of America executives and backed by private equity group Elm Creek Partners of Dallas acquired the company.

In an interview at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in Orlando in October, Tim Taylor, FreeFlight Systems president and CEO, said the company’s strategy is to go beyond supplying sensors to providing NextGen-ready navigational systems. With WAAS sensor technology at the core, he says, bundled with data communications or integrated with a flight management system, an aircraft will have the navigational accuracy needed to operate in the future air-traffic management (ATM) environment.

Setting out with this strategy, the new owners have encountered some false assumptions about the cost and complexity of equipping for WAAS, said Taylor, formerly Elbit Systems of America CEO. "One of the things we found when we talked to customers about WAAS is there is a lot of fear out there about the technology. It appears that people have not really spent much time thinking about the practical issues of applying the technology to a real airplane. You see estimates that to [install] WAAS capability would cost $450,000... that you have to throw in an entire flight-management system. It’s completely untrue."

The Wide Area Augmentation System — or WAAS — is FAA’s favored system to provide aircraft positional accuracy in the coming NextGen flight regime. As of last September, the agency says, the number of published WAAS LPV (lateral precision with vertical guidance) approach procedures surpassed the number of ILS procedures in the United States. WAAS-capable navigation sensors will guide aircraft in all phases of flight, supporting "performance-based" RNAV and RNP operations and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) position reporting.

ADS-B is a pillar of NextGen, but exactly what will be required of operators to equip for it is still being formulated. FAA in October 2007 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require aircraft to have ADS-B "Out" broadcast capability by 2020. But the NPRM deferred a mandate on ADS-B "In" — which would give pilots the capability to see other air traffic.

WAAS was specified to provide the needed accuracy and integrity of aircraft position reports.

The NPRM was poorly received by industry. Of 1,372 comments submitted by the March deadline, more than 1,200 were "non-positive," Brendan English, of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told the recent AEEC symposium in Tulsa, Okla. FAA was considering 36 summary recommendations of an Aviation Rulemaking Committee and expected to issue a final rule in April.

The absence of an ADS-B equipment rule is not holding back FreeFlight Systems, which is eyeing the Australian market first, followed by Europe and thirdly the United States.

While Australia currently does not have WAAS service, it has defined TSO C145/146 designed WAAS receivers as a requirement, Taylor said. Eventually, through its collaboration with Japan, Australia will have the MTSAT Satellite-based Augmentation System (MSAS), he added. Europe has a requirement for Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS)-capable receivers.

Taylor acknowledged, however, that the U.S. market remains the prize.

"We think the global WAAS market in the next 10 years is around 500,000 systems," spread over some 350,000 aircraft, he said. "The real numbers game is the U.S. general aviation fleet, because that’s 250,000 of [the total].... Given current economic conditions and the fact that ADS-B In is not going to be required yet, we don’t really expect that to take off for another couple of years."

FreeFlight Systems is focusing its engineering and marketing efforts on the business aviation community, followed by air-transport operators, Taylor said. It plans to launch a GA family of products in 2009.

For the business to grow, the company will have to tamp down cost concerns. "There’s quite a lobby out there that says you shouldn’t use WAAS for ADS-B," Taylor said. "Everyone’s freaking out: ‘I’ve got to buy a new Mode S; I’ve got to buy a new flight management system.’ It’s not true. WAAS is already there. The infrastructure is already there. The receivers are available. There aren’t many of us making them; probably there will be more. We can make it very available and very affordable."

He described four methods for implementing WAAS:

  • Correct the inertial navigation system. "You have an inertial navigation system talking to the existing flight management system," he explained. "You insert the WAAS between the two, and the FMS still thinks it’s looking at inertial nav and it is, except the inertial nav once-a-second is being corrected by WAAS." FreeFlight Systems offers the 1201 GPS/WAAS sensor and antenna for light aircraft, priced at $6,587; and the 1203 sensor and antenna for business jets, priced at $9,133.

  • Tie WAAS to a data radio for ADS-B functionality. Taylor said the current rule contemplates ADS-B functionality as a WAAS sensor coupled with a transmitting 1090 MHz data radio that complies with the ADS-B data format.

    "ADS-B is a WAAS sensor with a data radio attached to it," he said. "It’s mischaracterized as Mode S or UAT (Universal Access Transceiver); it’s actually not true if you read the MOPS (minimum operational performance standard). It’s a navigation sensor which we strongly believe should be a WAAS sensor." A navigation sensor and data radio package would cost about $30,000 for a transport-category aircraft, $10,000 for a business jet and less for GA aircraft.

  • Replace the existing TSO-C129 GPS receiver with a WAAS sensor, which is "sometimes easy, sometimes complicated," Taylor said. "If you have a GPS-enabled FMS, you can replace the GPS engine with a WAAS GPS engine," he explained. "We’re putting WAAS in our own navigation systems as a WAAS sensor in a C129-certified navigator, so you can have your regular navigator but you get a C145 output from it. That’s a nice, simple way to get a WAAS sensor into the aircraft for other applications."

  • Install WAAS on the aircraft independent of the existing navigation system, for multiple redundant systems. "FAA has certified WAAS as being capable and having sufficient accuracy and integrity to be a sole-use navigation sensor," Taylor said. "So you can put a single WAAS sensor on an aircraft and it knows, to the FAA’s entire satisfaction, where it is, where it’s going, and it knows it knows. It has all the attributes the FAA wants for a precision navigation system. Then all you have to do is compare it to the output coming from the existing flight management system." —Bill Carey


NextGen Contract

FAA on Nov. 3 announced a $9 million agreement with Honeywell and Aviation Communications & Surveillance Systems (ACSS) to accelerate testing and installation of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B).

FAA said Honeywell will receive $3 million to work with pilots from JetBlue and Alaska Airlines at Seattle-Tacoma International and Snohomish County Paine Field airports in Washington to develop various requirements, standards and human factors analysis for ADS-B. ACSS, which will receive $6 million, is partnering with US Airways at Philadelphia International Airport to equip 20 Airbus A330s with ACSS’s SafeRoute system, which includes cockpit displays, transponders, antennas, wiring kits and Class 2 Electronic Flight Bags.

Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell said the contract aims to stimulate ADS-B equipage and reap early benefits of the technology. "Safety in the air starts with safety on the ground," Sturgell said. "This technology is a real jump for aviation. Getting it into the cockpit as fast as possible is the smart thing to do.

"As [presidential] administrations change and budgets begin to tighten, it’s incumbent on all of us to keep the pressure on implementing NextGen," he said. "Everyone in the aviation community has an interest in making sure it’s done right, and it’s done on time."

MAGIC Interface

Airlines, airframers and equipment manufacturers will look into developing a standard, IP-based communication management function that would accommodate dissimilar air-ground datalinks.

Representatives to the AEEC General Session in Tulsa, Okla., in October, approved an ARINC Project Initiation/Modification (APIM) document launching the Manager of Air-Ground Interface Communications (MAGIC) project. The end standard, planned in 2011, would be a common interface specification for routing air-ground links such as SwiftBroadband, Ku-band, Aircell Gogo and Gatelink. A first application is seen on the Airbus A350WXB.

"A general-purpose IP-based communication management function that can provide off-aircraft routing is needed to take advantage of current commercially available network technologies that are already being deployed on aircraft," states APIM O8-010. "Each aircraft domain has differing requirements for certification and security. These are currently dealt with by installing different systems for each domain. This approach can not continue, as there are few choices available for air-ground connectivity and the aircraft operators need to maximize the use of these data links to reduce costs and improve availability of communications."

Explaining the project to AEEC delegates, Jean-Paul Moreaux of Airbus said MAGIC will provide a function similar to that of an ACARS communication management unit, but for IP-based traffic.

"We cannot take advantage of capacity in the optimum way," he said. "MAGIC is an attempt to make it manageable."

For airlines, the function would provide a common interface for the various IP broadband datalinks offered and permit the use of common equipment across domestic and long-range fleets using different technologies. Airframers could provide different connectivity options without significant modification of the aircraft infrastructure. For communication service providers, the integration of new technologies and services into aircraft would be simplified, reducing market-entry barriers and promoting competition, the APIM says.

For avionics suppliers, MAGIC would provide "a standard interface in all directions," Moreaux said. — Bill Carey


The advent of fiber-optic local area networks using wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) is fast approaching in commercial aircraft, according to a presentation to the AEEC General Session.

Used in the telecommunications industry, WDM increases the data throughput of fiber by assigning different wavelengths, or colors, to data streams. The U.S. Department of Defense has spent $35 million on chip development for WDM LAN, which will be applied on the Joint Strike Fighter. However, there is no current implementation on commercial aircraft, said Dan Martinec, of ARINC Industry Activities.

Speaking to the AEEC meeting in October, Martinec said a commercial manufacturer, which he later identified as Photonic Corp., of Culver City, Calif., announced plans to build an integrated circuit for WDM LAN in aerospace based on a standard being developed by ARINC and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

The technology "is coming fast, faster than a freight train," Martinec said. The first application likely will be for in-flight entertainment.

A350 Recorders

L-3 Aviation Recorders, Sarasota, Fla., will supply the flight recording system for the Airbus A350 XWB.

Under terms of the contract, L-3 will provide cockpit voice recorders, flight data recorders and accelerometers for the new widebody, set for delivery in 2013.

L-3 said the recording system intended for the A350 XWB was developed from the system installed on the A380.

Simulation Buy

Rockwell Collins on Oct. 17 said it intends to acquire SEOS, of West Sussex, U.K., a supplier of visual display systems for commercial and military full-flight simulators. The price was not disclosed.

The transaction, subject to regulatory approvals, was expected to close in November. SEOS, which employs 150 people, was to become part of the Rockwell Collins Simulation and Training Solutions organization.


Boeing AH-6

Boeing has launched the AH-6 light attack/reconnaissance helicopter program, reintroducing some elements from its rejected Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) proposal for the U.S. Army in 2005.

In a presentation at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) convention in Washington, D.C., in October, Mike Burke, director of Boeing Army Rotorcraft Business Development, spoke of "pretty decent demand for light reconnaissance helicopters" in the international market, which will be the initial focus of the AH-6. Burke said he expected a first order of 18 to 24 helicopters from an unnamed international customer in early 2009, with an overall potential market of several hundred aircraft.

"Boeing has been approached by several potential customers seeking light attack and reconnaissance capabilities in a flexible rotorcraft platform," said Dave Palm, director of Boeing Rotorcraft Business Development. "We believe this system is a perfect fit for those customers seeking long endurance, proven performance and 2,000-pound payload within an affordable helicopter."

Manufactured in Mesa, Ariz., the AH-6 will have an Electro-Optical/Infrared forward-looking sight and a mount for weapons. Growth options include an integrated digital cockpit leveraging Apache Block II research and development, infrared suppression and a larger cabin, Boeing said.

In 2005, Boeing lost the bid to supply 512 ARHs to Bell Helicopter Textron, offering the ARH-70A Arapaho. But on Oct. 16, the U.S. Department of Defense effectively canceled the ARH contract, citing cost overruns and delays. Later that month, Bell said it would cut 500 jobs, mostly in Fort Worth, Texas.

Delivery of the new helicopter to the Army originally was slated for 2009, a date that had slipped to 2013.

Boeing released a statement shortly after the ARH contract termination, saying Boeing "is ready to respond to any request from our U.S. Army customer for rotorcraft solutions that will enable them to move ahead with an alternative course of action to meet this critical capability for America’s soldiers." — Emily Feliz

F-15E Radar

Boeing on Oct. 30 announced the award of a $238 million System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract from the U.S. Air Force to upgrade F-15Es with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Under the Radar Modernization Program (RMP), the AESA radar will replace the aircraft’s current Raytheon APG-70 multimode radar, improving reliability, maintainability and performance while reducing support costs, Boeing said. During the SDD phase, Raytheon will produce developmental and flight-test units and support Boeing’s integration of AESA on the F-15E. Initial operational capability is expected in fiscal 2014 with 12 operational aircraft.

"The Radar Modernization Program will ensure that the F-15E continues its multi-role supremacy for decades," said Mark Bass, Boeing F-15 program vice president. "The supportability improvements and tactical flexibility inherent in the RMP take the F-15E capability to a higher level."

AC-130 Link

The U.S. Air Force accomplished the first flight of a modified AC-130U Gunship with new Link 16 data and display processing capabilities.

The upgraded AC-130U will include Rockwell Collins’ Data Link Processor and "OpenEdge" net-enablement software hosted on an IPC 8303 Integrated Processing Cabinet, providing integration of Link 16 and Cursor-on-Target functionality. Rockwell Collins is supplying components to BAE Systems, which will integrate Link 16 on the gunship. Twenty-five aircraft are to be modified under a contract from Lockheed Martin.

AC-130s, used for close air support, currently communicate with ground forces using UHF radio. With the modification, gunships can exchange information with ground and airborne forces and provide locations of friendly and enemy aircraft, ships and troops.

In an initial flight test by the 46th Test Wing, the Rockwell Collins system demonstrated Link 16 messaging between an AC-130U, a ground station at Hurlburt Field, Fla., a system integration lab at Eglin Air Force Base and a F-16, using terrestrial and airborne networks.


Hawker 450XP

Hawker Beechcraft launched the Hawker 450XP light business jet at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention. Building on the Hawker 400XP, the 450XP will have new Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535D engines, Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated avionics, a new interior and Rockwell Collins new "Venue" integrated cabin management system.

The jet will have improved cruise speed (421 knots) and maximum takeoff weight (16,650 pounds) compared to the Hawker 400XP, and offer a standard eight-place, center-club seating arrangement with a private lavatory. First flight of the 450XP is set for the second quarter 2009. FAA certification is planned for the second quarter 2010 and European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) certification in the third quarter that year.

The Pro Line 21 flight deck will have three 8-by-10 inch AMLCDs as well as digital radio and audio systems. It will incorporate dual flight management systems and a WAAS-enabled receiver, enabling Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) approaches.

The Venue cabin management system enables passengers to use their personal electronic devices or in-flight entertainment system. The system has individual power outlets and USB connectors for electronic devices. A 10-inch, swing-out individual high-definition monitor in the club seating area and aft side of the forward cabinet are also available.

Gulfstream G250

Gulfstream Aerospace unveiled the G250 super mid-size business jet at the NBAA convention in Orlando, Fla., in October, promising a range of 3,400 nautical miles at 0.80 Mach. The newest addition to the Gulfstream line is scheduled for a first flight in the second half of 2009, with certification projected in 2011.

The G250 will be powered by twin Honeywell HTF7250G engines and equipped with Gulfstream’s PlaneView 250 flight deck, based on the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics suite. That flight deck will have three high-resolution, 15-inch diagonal LCDs capable of showing multiple formats, including optional synthetic and enhanced vision.

"The Gulfstream PlaneView 250 cockpit represents the culmination of a joint development effort with Gulfstream to offer the most advanced flight deck technology available," said Greg Irmen, Rockwell Collins vice president and general manager, Business and Regional Systems.

"We look forward to delivering the key principles of the Pro Line Fusion flight deck — enhanced situational awareness, an intuitive user interface, advanced information management capabilities and a scaleable architecture that will accommodate the newest advancements."

The cockpit also will have two Standby Multifunction Controllers (SMC). Installed in the glare shield, the SMCs will incorporate a variety of features, including Standby Instrument, Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS) Display Control and Remote Information Display on a 5.3-inch LCD.

The G250 also will have dual Flight Management Systems, dual Gulfstream Cursor Control Devices (CCD), universal worldwide graphical weather, automatic Emergency Descent Mode, Rockwell Collins MultiScan weather radar and a dual auto-throttle system. Options include the Rockwell Collins HGS-6250 Head-Up Display (HUD II), Gulfstream Enhanced Vision (EVS II) and Gulfstream Synthetic Vision-Primary Flight Display (SV-PFD).

Gulfstream said the G250 will have the largest cabin in its class, with 17 percent to 35 percent more floor area than any other super mid-size business jet.

Initial manufacturing of the G250 will take place at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) near Ben Gurion International Airport. IAI currently builds two other Gulfstream aircraft — the G150 and the G200. Final phase manufacturing will take place at the Gulfstream completion facility for mid-cabin aircraft in Dallas.

King Air 350i

Hawker Beechcraft unveiled the Beechcraft King Air 350i turboprop, featuring the Rockwell Collins Venue Cabin Management System and a redesigned cabin.

The King Air 350i will be the first turboprop equipped with the Venue system, supporting the use of multiple personal entertainment devices, including DVD, CD and MP3 players, Apple iPod, Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 gaming consoles, as well as laptop computer, digital and video camera and USB devices.

It has a 15.3-inch swing-out monitor in the forward entertainment cabinet with wide-screen display showing digital hi-definition video. High-definition screens at each seat location can be added. The updated interior, modeled after the Premier IA, includes new seat tailoring and tables, electro chromic window darkeners, LED lighting, increased legroom, and optional seat warmers.

"The focus with the King Air 350i was integrating cabin functionality and flexibility into an aircraft that has unmatched mission flexibility," said Brad Hatt, Hawker Beechcraft president of Commercial Sales. "Now it also has the most advanced cabin management system available of any aircraft near its price point."

FAA certification of the King Air 350i was planned for the third quarter 2009, with deliveries following in the fourth quarter. European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) certification was planned for the first quarter 2010.


BAE Systems introduced its "Q-HUD" head-up display at the NBAA convention, calling the waveguide optics technology a revolutionary advance.

Compared to conventional HUDs, which use lenses to project an image on the combiner glass in front of a pilot, Q-HUD optics are generated within the combiner. The system eliminates the standard overhead projector unit, reducing overall weight, size and complexity.

Development of Q-HUD, part of the company’s Q-Sight family of helmet-mounted displays, began in 2004. BAE is targeting the product for the air-transport, regional and business jet markets, and anticipates it will enter service in 2010. BAE says the Q-HUD display of navigation and flight symbology will enable takeoffs at 300-foot runway visual range. It provides approach guidance and deceleration cues for added safety at non-ILS runways, making overrun landings less likely. It is designed to accept enhanced or synthetic vision interfaces.

Malcolm Homan, BAE Avionics Systems chief engineer based in Rochester, U.K., described a "rod/slab" architecture in which light is manipulated with holographic waveguides within the glass.

"The way we are generating the image is radically different," Homan said.

Falcon EASy Upgrade

Dassault Falcon Jet will upgrade the EASy flight deck of its Falcon 900, 2000 and 7X business jets to include synthetic vision and other new features, the company announced at the NBAA convention. The EASy system is based on Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics suite.

Olivier Villa, Dassault senior vice president for civil aircraft, said the company launched EASy Phase II, involving both hardware and software changes. In addition to synthetic vision, new capabilities will be controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), ADS-B Out, RNP and Localizer Performance with Vertical guidance (LPV) approaches and a "paperless" cockpit.

Phase II certification for the Falcon 900 series is expected by the end of 2009. Certification for the Falcon 2000 and 7X models will follow in mid-2010.

CMC ‘PilotView’

Esterline CMC Electronics introduced the PilotView CMA-1410, a Class 2 electronic flight bag (EFB) with 10.4-inch display/processor and improved readability and responsiveness.

The EFB comes with a LED backlit display, film-on-glass touchscreen and bezel layout for specific functions. It has a 1.4 GHz Intel Centrino Mobile processor and 1 GB memory. Interfaces include duel USB 2.0 data ports, 802.11 wireless LAN and PCMCIA Type II card slot.


The Honeywell Corporate Flight Department received FAA authorization to perform RNP Special Aircraft and Aircrew Authorization Required (SAAAR) operations.

Honeywell made the announcement in October at the NBAA convention.

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