Commercial, Embedded Avionics

McMurdo Group to Develop Next Generation SAR Technology

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | October 12, 2015
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[Avionics Today 10-12-2015] McMurdo Group has been selected by the European Commission to lead a consortium including Air France, Cobham Aerospace Communications and several other partners in the development of next generation Search and Rescue (SAR) distress beacons. The French aerospace manufacturer will conduct research under the European Union’s (EU’s) Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, which is providing more than $80 billion in funding to create more technological breakthroughs and bring lab-based research initiatives to the commercial market quickly. 
Photo: McMurdo Group. 
The McMurdo-lead consortium will operate under the Horizon 2020 HELIOS project, with the goal of improving distress beacon signals technology to include near-instantaneous alert detection, pinpoint location positioning and remote acknowledgement and activation of distress beacon signals. The HELIOS consortium will also look to deliver next generation beacons that use the Cospas-Sarsat satellite- based Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) system,. 
According to McMurdo Group CEO Jean-Yves Courtois, MEOSAR is expected to streamline search and rescue technology by accurately detecting and locating distress beacon signals instantaneously, rather than taking hours at a time in some cases. MEOSAR is currently being deployed worldwide and uses the European Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellite as one of its primary satellite constellations.
Courtois told Avionics Magazine that, while it is difficult to be innovative in the development of aircraft SAR-technology Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs), the company has still worked to be a trend-setter in ELTs — a trait that it will likely draw upon in leading the HELIOS research effort. 
“An ELT is a product that is very well-defined in terms of frequency and messages that you need to operate over certain temperature ranges. It must resist a crash or shocks, it must resist a fire, and it must resist also interactions or collisions with metal pieces,” said Courtois. “There are lots of constraints when you do innovative things and, on top of that, in the safety world, most of the time customers are not so interested in innovation. They’re essentially interested in having a product that fulfills the regulation so that they are compliant and they can fly. Usually, in the safety world, it may be counter intuitive, especially when you see big accidents and struggle to find the aircraft. Usually customers are just looking to be compliant and are not so willing to pay a bit more for innovation.”
The Horizon 2020 selection is the latest win of 2015 for McMurdo Group, which was selected by Embraer in January to provide its Kannad Integra ELTs for Embraer’s second-generation regional jet family, the E2. In July, Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC) subsidiary Harbin Aircraft Industry Group (HAIG) contracted McMurdo to supply its ELTs for AVIC’s AC312 helicopters and Y12 fixed-wing aircraft over the next 10 years. 
“The Integra ELTs includes an antenna inside the beacon’s plastic casing that can be a substitute for the external antenna, which is outside the aircraft, which is what the standards requires. During a crash, because everything is distorted, the aircraft is broken open, and the majority of the time the external antenna is broken or the link between the external antenna and the ELT is broken. As a result, even though the ELT is triggered by the shock, it has no antenna to send the radio signal to the satellite and does not work,” said Courtois. “We worked with Airbus Helicopters several years ago to incorporate another antenna inside the ELT itself close to the surface, which allows you to switch to the internal antenna in case the external antenna is broken. If you realize that link is broken, then the ELT will switch to the internal antenna. It works well and was proven during trials with Airbus Helicopters.”

As the project coordinator, McMurdo will receive more than $2.4 million of the total HELIOS budget over the next three years. The consortium will finalize the HELIOS budget in December. 

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