Editor's Note

Avionics Big Data: Impacting All Segments of the Aviation Industry

By by Woodrow Bellamy III | December 1, 2014
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Aircraft data is the lifeblood of the aviation industry. Data is everywhere you look, from flight testing, to in-flight data recording, enemy radar sensor data acquisition and more. However, of all flight data uses, nearly 60 percent of Avionics Magazine readership sees real-time monitoring of in-flight data as the most important. The same survey also showed that nearly 40 percent of respondents have used Honeywell Aerospace data acquisition technology, followed by another 30 percent that reported use of competitor Rockwell Collins’ data acquisition products.

At the same time, airframe Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) are focused on real-time data monitoring of their flight test aircraft and engine makers want real-time data regarding the performance of their engines in-flight. Avionics manufacturers, airlines, system integrators, cockpit display makers and other component manufacturers also want to see data on how their products perform in-flight and during different phases of flight, in order to determine how products perform under certain conditions and where to focus improvements.

Operational Efficiency

Boeing’s Airplane Health Management (AHM) program monitors all 787s in service around the world. The program creates an average of 136 reports per flight such as flight performance data, fuel efficiency, oil consumption trends, CO2 emissions. Photo courtesy of Boeing.

When it comes to air transport aircraft, Teledyne reports that it has a 75 percent market share across Airbus and Boeing air transport category airframes with its products that perform data acquisition and management, recording and wireless transfer designed to help carriers collect, manage and distribute data more efficiently.

“There are three main reasons why airlines upgrade acquisition systems,” says William Cecil, director of business development for wireless and data automation solutions for Teledyne. The first is carriers who seek to implement data acquisition hardware that gives them “more data and more control over data acquisition, analysis and transmission for limitless applications in the air and on the ground during flight and post flight,” Cecil says. The second revolves around “regulatory mandates that require new acquisition software or hardware to support them.” And the third reason is the “sustained poor reliability of their current acquisition system.”

To address these needs, Teledyne provides its Flight Data Information Management Unit (FDIMU), Digital Flight Data Acquisition Unit (DFDAU) and Wireless Quick Access Recorder (WQAR) as upgrades for most of the legacy aircraft that are still featured in airline fleets around the world, including the Airbus A330, A340 and the Boeing 737 and 747-8, as well as regional and business jets manufactured by Embraer. “Our boxes are like the data concentrators because they’re connected to as many as 40 or 50 ARINC 429 buses, they’re connected to multiple data buses and other analog channels,” says Cecil. “They’re collecting data from just about every system on the aircraft; they’re patched into everything, gathering what is required by regulations, format that into a single data stream and then shoot it to the black box, which records what we give it.”

Sercin Ozen, senior safety and flight data monitoring specialist for Pegasus Airlines, says her airline is looking to add Boeing’s web-based Airplane Health Management (AHM) technology to its flight operations.

“Boeing’s AHM program is fed by real-time airplane data, but we are planning to send the data after landing using Teledyne’s wireless method. Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS) reports produced by Teledyne Digital Flight Data Acquisition Units (DFDAUs) are going to be sent to AHM system to provide enhanced fault forwarding, troubleshooting, and historical maintenance information. Boeing and Teledyne are working together in order to provide this kind of environment for feeding the AHM system with wireless data transfer. This improvement will enable us for making more detailed maintenance trend analysis and enhance operational efficiency,” says Ozen.

As of November, Boeing reports there are currently 74 operators worldwide using its AHM system in their fleet operations. That’s up from 58 operators in 2013. Nearly 20 percent of Avionics Magazine data acquisition survey respondents have used Boeing’s AHM system as well. The airframe manufacturer is always looking to improve this solution, as with Boeing’s introduction of the “AHM Notify” application for iPhone and iPad access to the system earlier this year.

“Depending on their infrastructure capabilities associated with the airplane, airlines can use automatic uplinks or manually download operational data as needed. Boeing can also work with airlines to utilize this data for prognostic analysis of airplane systems and components,” says Mike Hurd, program manager for Boeing Airplane Health Solutions. “Boeing AHM Notify can be used by maintenance controllers, line maintenance supervisors, dispatchers, airline managers and aviation suppliers who need to be aware of high priority maintenance issues as they happen. AHM Notify for iPhone and iPad provides the ability to view, manage and disposition Boeing Airplane Health Management fault and alert information on a mobile device.”

Another big provider of aircraft data acquisition technology for operational efficiency purposes is Taleris, the joint venture established between GE Aviation and Accenture in 2012 aimed at delivering data-driven value to help operators avoid operational disruptions and drive down costs in areas of maintenance, crew logistics and aircraft movement. When considering upgrading for data acquisition purposes, Mark Thomson, program manager for GE Aviation’s Integrated Vehicle Health Management System (IVHM), gives advice based on the company’s recent experience having its IVHM — rebranded as the PlaneConnectHTM — on the Gulfstream G650. Thomson has found that there is value in how aircraft data measures the in-flight performance of systems and different components.

“We’ve got this ground services network, which is branded as Plane Connect HTM and there are hundreds of logins between Gulfstream, and various 650 operators that allow everybody to basically be able to see the same thing on the same day on a given flight,” says Thomson. “It’s kind of surprising how far the logins go beyond what we initially conceived. People have found it’s helpful in engineering and a number of operational activities. You build it with a definite intention but find there’s a lot more uses for it.”

Thompson also adds that airline operators should consider all of the different aspects of their team that can gain value from near real-time delivery of data when considering adding new hardware or software components to their operations. Jeff Peterson, director of marketing for Taleris, says the joint venture has also gained experience from providing its web-based prognostics service for Etihad Airways. The Middle Eastern carrier originally partnered with Taleris in late 2013 to use the web-based prognostics service to continuously analyze data from multiple sensors on its aircraft components and systems to warn of imminent problems. The results of that partnership, according to Peterson, have been a reduction of unscheduled maintenance, fewer delays and cancellations and a reduction in maintenance costs and improved on-time performance.

“Our focus for all of our offerings from the pairings to the recovery to the prognostics is really around managing the gap,” says Peterson. ”Airlines are fantastic at planning their schedules. Managing the revenue, building their routes, their plan, they have it drilled down to the minute-by-minute progress of every flight to maximize their revenue and produce an incredibly optimized plan. But that plan never goes as planned, there’s always weather events, disruptions, delays. That gap is where Taleris can have a major impact, helping operators address the unexpected by delivering value-driven data acquisition processes.”

Beyond Operations and Monitoring

Data acquisition can serve many different purposes across all different segments of the aviation industry. Within the military environment, Curtiss Wright Defense Solutions has had some major breakthroughs over the past year. Curtiss Wright’s engineers focus on data acquisition technology for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Electronic Warfare (EW) solutions, including sensors and radar detection systems that help warfighters identify threats when involved in theater. These systems and sensors have to acquire data about the environment, configure and analyze it and then present it to a pilot on a cockpit interface to provide them with a proper warning. Due to the mixture of digital and analog components and systems of today’s military aircraft, this process occurs through analog to digital conversion (ADC) and digital to analog (DAC). In order to do that, those avionics systems need ultra-powerful high speed subsystem components.

In collaboration with its partner Tektronix Component Solutions, Curtiss Wright has now introduced double the already industry-leading analog-to-digital ADC and digital-DAC data bandwidth performance supported by its groundbreaking CHAMP-WB OpenVPX board family. The new receiver and transmitter products will deliver an unprecedented 25 GS/s, or 25 billion samples per second.

“The reason it is significant is because of the amount of spectrum you can cover,” says Denis Smetana, senior product manager for Floating Point Gate Array (FPGA) products at Curtiss Wright. “Right now with all the stuff that’s going on in the military world, we keep having to look at a wider and wider range of signals and you want to be able to do that all in one swoop if you can. Getting a general indication of where the areas are or where you’re seeing things that are suspicious that you may need to take a closer look at. This type of technology really gives that broad viewing and basically doubles the amount of view that your avionics can detect in a dangerous environment.”

The product line is designed for both manned and unmanned platforms, making it ideal for the combined 30 percent of Avionics Magazine readers that operate military unmanned and rotary wing aircraft, according to our survey results.

Curtiss Wright has also made strides in its data acquisition technology within the flight testing environment. The aerospace and defense manufacturer’s latest data acquisition solution in that regard is its Acra KAM-500 airborne Data Acquisition Unit (DAU) which has been used for data acquisition flight testing purposes on the Airbus A380, Embraer Legacy 500, Dassault Falcon 7X and ATR 72-600, among others. “All of our data, once its gathered up in the KAM-500, is sent out as Ethernet packets over the network to the recorder or to the telemetry link and we’ve also developed switches that carry that data and that switch that data through the network,” says Dave Buckley, chief architect for the avionics and electronics division of Curtiss Wright. According to Buckley, the KAM-500 was designed as a very modular system, so that it could be adapted to help measure the performance of aircraft components as requests arise from different manufacturers and operators.

Dominant Way

“By nature of its modularity it has many different ways of transferring data. However, the dominant way of transmitting data today in flight test networks is by Ethernet,” says Buckley. “It used to be something called ARINC 106 chapter 4 PCM. But that was something that was limited in terms of bandwidth. You could only get 10 to 20 megabits out of the chasse maximum and it also was not a very widely used standard. That’s another reason why the data acquisition technology across the whole industry is moving into Ethernet. About 80 percent of the platforms that we do right now are Ethernet based.”

Moving forward, the concept of big data and real-time data monitoring, transfer and sharing for maintenance, efficiency and flight operations and testing purposes will continue to be important for avionics manufacturers, OEMs and operators. New airframes, such as the recently entered into service Airbus A350 XWB, and others such as Gulfstream’s G500 and G600, Boeing’s 777X and Lockheed’s F-35 on the horizon, are going to be producing more airborne data than the industry has ever seen. How operators and manufacturers collect that data, analyze it and use it to improve their products and services will continue to keep aircraft data the “life blood” of the industry.

Woodrow Bellamy IIIis the community editor for Avionics Magazine.

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