Honeywell applies new concepts and software to helicopter safety
Integrating SVS/EVS with advanced EGPWS and TCAS technology will reduce midairs and CFIT accidents.
By Woody McClendon
ATP/Helo. AgustaWestland A109, Bell 222/412, Eurocopter AS350B3
This Primus-based unit integrates synthetic vision into a 3D, EGPWS terrain picture, then superimposes a HUD model of attitude and performance cues onto the flightpath. An HSI display at the bottom completes the situational picture for a large all-in-one window into "the sphere."
Helicopter accidents, particularly in the aeromedical community, are an ongoing hot topic. Over the past 20 years government and civilian entities have launched a number of safety initiatives to combat the grim and ever rising statistics.
Despite these well meant efforts, helicopter accident rates are still 8-10 times higher than those for commercial airplanes. Helicopter insurance rates reflect the bleak reality, with rotorcraft hull rates at least 10 times those for fixed-wing aircraft.
Even underwriters are speaking out these days about helicopter accident rates and stepping in as active participants to reduce hull losses and fatalities. And late last year NTSB announced its dismay at the continuing loss of life in helicopter operations.
Focusing on the aeromedical community, the worst offender, the board set a date for national hearings on the problem. The agenda reads like a reprint of NTSB sessions that years ago focused on commercial jet accidents.
Solutions emerged from those hearings that ultimately reduced the commercial jet accident rate to nearly zero. Those sessions focused on 2 primary problems midair collisions and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), in which otherwise normally functioning airplanes crash into the ground.
Current discussions on aeromedical helicopter accidents view CFIT as the primary issue. NTSB has made it clear that the desired path is to adapt solutions that worked for commercial airplanes to accident problems in the aeromedical helicopter business.
Especially among aeromedical flightcrews who are following the discussions closely the hope is that NTSB's recommendations become their industry's new course of action. In the commercial airplane community, the midair collision and CFIT problems were addressed with technical solutions.
Avionics vendors designed products to provide crews with significantly increased awareness of impending danger traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) to avoid midairs, and enhanced ground proximity warning systems (EGPWS) to guard against inadvertently flying into terrain.
Over the objections of commercial operators who balked at the cost, these systems became mandatory in all commercial jets. Aircrews were given extensive training in their use, maximizing their utility and ultimately making flying safer.
Some pilots resisted the idea of avionics hardware telling them what to do, but after years of midair collision warnings and terrain advisories that have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, few jet pilots today would take off without functioning TCAS and EGPWS.
Collision avoidance in aeromedical helicopters is, for the most part, a case of "see and be seen." Often flying in crowded urban skies, aeromedical pilots depend on local tower and approach controllers to help them avoid each other as well as arriving and departing airplanes.
Honeywell Primus Epic AW139 cockpit with 4 brightly lit 8 x 10-inch flat panel displays, 2 NZ2000-style FMS control display units and large Sagem map display in center panel for wide-scale orientation and planning.
Ironically, last year's midair collision between 2 aeromedical helicopters, which killed 8 people, happened in the uncrowded skies of Flagstaff AZ. Neither aircraft was equipped with a collision avoidance system.
And neither pilot was expecting to encounter the other at such a remote site. Had one or both of them been equipped with collision avoidance hardware, the outcome might have been very different.
Seven of the recent accidents under review by NTSB are classic cases of CFIT-functioning aircraft with a qualified pilot, flying into terrain for no apparent reason. In most of the cases the pilot had extensive experience in aeromedical operations in the aircraft type, and was familiar with the geographical area where the accident occurred.
The little data gleaned from the flight profiles indicates the presence of any one of a number of potentially disruptive issues, such as sudden onset of bad weather, patient problems and pilot fatigue.
NTSB pushing helicopter safety initiatives
NTSB officials say they will stress the urgency of implementing TAWS and some version of TCAS in all aeromedical helicopters. Some EMS managers have agreed with this position, acknowledging that proven solutions are an excellent potential cure for the stunning accident rate.
Asked what else was on their wish list to interdict the accident rate and put an end to the fatalities, these same managers expressed interest in avionics upgrades. They also favored improved flight procedures and more comprehensive flight training programs.
All were viewed as potentially powerful tools in interdicting accidents. Honeywell Avionics Sales Dir Doug Kult describes his company's commitment to helicopter avionics solutions. "Honeywell Aerospace pioneered both collision avoidance and terrain warning technology," he says, "and we continue to develop new software and hardware for various market segments."
Kult continues, "We are committed to enhancing helicopter avionics and improving them to the same level as commercial airplanes. As an example, the AgustaWestland AW139 was designed around the Primus Epic suite-offered as standard equipment.
Honeywell Helicopter Avionics Sales Dir Doug Kult with Honeywell's AW139.
Through a recent series of software upgrades aimed at AW139 mission profiles, customers are now experiencing significant improvements in mission utility. These include tailoring the search-and-rescue (SAR) mode to assist the crew in keeping victims on the surface in sight once they're spotted, and adding RNP SAAAR capabilities so that helicopter IFR approaches and departures can be easily tailored to remote destinations."
Elaborating on Honeywell's answer to replacement/upgrade avionics for the aeromedical fleet, Kult says, "The King product line was originally developed by King Radio for light aircraft. After Honeywell acquired King we retained the brand.
The King line is distinct from the Primus line in its use of simpler systems, displays and software reflective of the smaller operating envelope of the aircraft it supports." As Kult notes, "Many of the King systems appropriate for rotorcraft are already FAA and EASA certified in many of the popular types.