ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Embedded Avionics, Military

L-3 Responds to Helicopter Demand for ADS-B With All-in-One Solution

By Juliet Van Wagenen | March 1, 2016
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[Avionics Today 03-01-2016] Helicopters operating in the National Airspace System (NAS) are required to equip with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) avionics by Jan. 1, 2020, under an airspace mandate established as part of the FAA’s NextGen air transportation system modernization program. Over the last year, several helicopter operators have expressed the need for a more simplified Supplemental Type Certification (STC) process, as well as the need for solutions providing easier paths to compliance for their existing fleets. L-3 believes its newly STC’d Lynx ADS-B transponders are the solution the rotorcraft market has been seeking. 

L-3 Lynx touchscreen transponder
L-3 Lynx touchscreen transponder. Photo: L-3

At a press conference prior to the start of the 2016 Heli-Expo conference, L-3 unveiled an Approved Model List (AML) STC for Part 27 rotorcraft for the installation of its Lynx line of ADS-B products. The avionics manufacturer is one of several companies making an effort to establish an easier path to ADS-B compliance for helicopter operators right now. However, as Larry Riddle, vice president of marketing and sales for general aviation at L-3 told reporters during a pre Heli Expo press conference, what sets the NGT-9000 apart from others is the amount of functionality that it packs into one box.

“Last year there was a lot of buzz between the operators and FAA about finding an easy solution for ADS-B compliance for helicopters,” Riddle said during the L-3 press briefing.

L-3 obtained an AML STC for 93 different helicopter models, which Riddle says covers an estimated 90 percent of Part 27 civilian use rotorcraft. While the basic low-cost versions of the Lynx models, including the NGT-2500, NGT-2000 and NGT-1000 can provide simple ADS-B Out compliance with the 2020 mandate, the NGT-9000 goes a step further.

L-3’s Lynx AML STC is already gaining traction at Heli Expo as well, with international Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) provider Vector Aerospace announcing that it is currently in the process of using the Lynx 1090 MHz Mode S ES transponder to develop its own ADS-B Out solution for Finmeccanica Helicopters AW139 medium twin rotorcraft.

According to L-3, the NGT-9000 combines a touchscreen ADS-B transponder with a display for viewing ADS-B traffic and weather data in a single panel-mounted unit. There is also an option to add Active Traffic and Aural Alerting (ATAS), as well as a Wi-Fi interface module enabling connectivity to mobile and tablet flight apps. Completing the all-in-one solution is the embedded Wide Area Augmentation System GPS, which requires no external GPS connections. As opposed to upgrading a transponder, position source, annunciators, and an interface mechanism, the NGT-9000 provides all of these ADS-B components that would normally be separated into one box.

“You get embedded WAAS, GPS, the 1090 ES and also the free weather through the [Universal Access Transceiver] UAT. And if you want to spend slightly more you can get full traffic, active traffic; today that requires a separate box, but we’ve actually found a software enablement that you can do with the transponder. It is the first touchscreen that you can have available as a transponder and an ADS-B compliant solution,” said Riddle.

Although the display of traffic on the transponder is narrow and much smaller than it would appear on a standard cockpit display, there are other options available to display the traffic in a larger format. Riddle and Gary Watson, director of the development of flight-testing programs at L-3, said that the ADS-B In functionality of the NGT-9000 can also be displayed on a Multi-function Display (MFD).  Pilots can also take a Wi-Fi enabled iOS or Android device and connect directly to the transponder using the aircraft’s N number to display the traffic on a larger interface.

“The traffic is displayable on any MFD that accepts SkyWatch traffic,” said Watson. “So the traffic interface is available as an ARINC interface on many [Primary Flight Displays] PFDs as it has been with SkyWatch, the weather interface is an open [Ground Data Link] GDL 90 [Interface Control Document] ICD-type interface, and we’re seeing more and more MFDs accepting that interface. It’s also available via Wi-Fi to an Android or an iPad device,” said Watson.

When questioned about the touchscreen capabilities of the NGT-9000 solution in a helicopter where pilots often are affected by vibration and sometimes wear gloves, Riddle noted that the company went through testing with several rotorcraft airframe manufacturers and thoroughly ensured that it works in civilian helicopter operations. The touchscreen uses resistive display technology and also limits the different types gestures and inputs that a pilot can make on the transponder.

While the FAA issued the rotorcraft AML STC under the recent regulatory agreement established by the FAA, Transport Canada and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the certification approval applies to helicopters operating in European airspace as well.  The new agreement with EASA facilitates acceptance of the classification for basic STCs, according to the FAA.

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