FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
To develop avionics, Universal flies units, engineers and execs in market airplanes
Challenger 601-3A, King Air 350 and F90 support company research and business.
A history of Universal Avionics Systems Corp
Over the years Naimer fine-tuned the business of effectively commuting from the short home strip at ACO to offices and factories throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
Two years after UASC was founded, and following extensive flight testing aboard the company Challenger 600, the first UNS1 FMS was delivered. This was followed in 1984 with the UNS1jr with the first disk drive unit (DDU).
After introducing a series of new technology cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) and digital radio control units (RCUs) UASC unveiled progressively more advanced FMS products—the UNS1B, 1M, 1D and 1C—before putting on the market the UNS1K FMS as well as UniLink 600 technology during 1997.
In 2000 the company announced its terrain awareness warning system (TAWS). The year 2002 was pivotal, with introduction of the Universal cockpit display (UCD) and Vision 1 SVS. UASC’s flightdeck display market advanced rapidly with the EFI890R 8.9-in flat panel display in 2004 and certification of Vision 1 SVS Part 23 and Part 25 displays in 2005 and 2006.
Today, you’ll see UASC display and FMS retrofit installations across the market. Premier Air/West Star Aviation has STC’ed a Falcon 50 installation with 4 EFI8900R displays, 2 UNS1F FMSs, TAWS and 2 RCUs.
Stevens Aviation STC’ed a full UASC package for the Learjet 25 while Elliot Aviation has STC’ed a 3-EFI890R panel with Vision 1 SVS for the Citation 501.
Meanwhile, Kansas City Aviation Center STC’ed a Pilatus PC12 package with triple EFI890Rs and SVS and ARC Avionics put together a full STC package for the Boeing 737-300/400 with 4 EFI890Rs, 2 UNS1F FMSs, Vision 1 SVS and Class A TAWS. The market for retrofit avionics remains strong, says Naimer.
“Aircraft are being kept longer and the flying environment continues to become more complex. We see a good market, long-term, in updating avionics and flightdeck capabilities.”
Naimer notes that much innovation is working its way up from entry-level sectors of the market, adding that more technology is percolating up from light to heavy aircraft than ever before.
There is much to look forward to, Naimer feels. “In 15–20 years,” he says, “while I believe we’ll probably still have 2-pilot crews, there will be dramatic improvements in flightdeck automation and technology.
In fact, so much is still possible that it’s unlikely that we’d be able to even imagine a flightdeck 20 years into the future.” Naimer cautions that automation must be treated carefully so that pilots maintain flying skills and vigilance, and he envision avionics systems actively monitoring pilot alertness in the not too distant future.
Evolving high-speed datalinks to the flightdeck “may lead to better tools for weather and turbulence avoidance,” he says. “We may be able to analyze local weather, as well as predict and measure turbulence, based on altitude and information from other aircraft,” suggests Naimer, “but this will require very high-speed datalinks due to volume of information.”
Naimer would also like to see improvement in obstacle detection for helicopters and feels that SVS technology will make it “theoretically doable” to design SSBJs without flightdeck windows. UASC VP Engineering Frank Hummel joined Universal Navigation in 1983.
“We’ve come a long way with flightdeck systems over the past 10–20 years,” he notes, “but I don’t think we’ve plateaued at all. Technology continues to evolve and there’s no reason to believe that pace of flightdeck technological innovation will slow.
We have more sensors available today, displays are getting larger with higher quality images, and datalink bandwidth is increasing. The real challenge is in integrating all this information effectively.”
For UASC, a big challenge for the future lies in how to present and integrate information concisely and clearly to crews. “We’re looking at new symbology and working on concepts of alternative representation of data,” says Hummel. UASC anticipates practical applications for voice control technology and closer man/machine interfaces.
“The weakest link in the flightdeck is the human element,” he says. “Future automation systems may be able to monitor what’s going on in the flightdeck, analyze inputs from operators and react if a series of events outside the norm presents itself.
While this would not redirect commands from the crew it could alert the crew to a situation requiring further attention and we envision this sort of thing integrating into avionics capabilities of the future.”
While we don’t know what future technology may hold for the flightdeck of the future it would not be out of the realm of reason to consider some form of “mind link” between human and machine.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the concept,” says Hummel. “Today we’re using a keyboard with communication back via a display. It would be ideal if this information could be somehow absorbed without need for a keyboard and while being heads-up all the time.
In any event, future displays may present information entirely differently and our interaction with avionics systems may take a form we cannot even imagine today.”
McLeod reports that the King Air fleet has been very reliable with good product support from Hawker Beechcraft. Inhouse support capabilities include line maintenance, basic inspections and avionics work. Larger King Air inspections are subcontracted to Cutter Aviation PHX (Sky Harbor, Phoenix AZ).
VP Engineering Frank Hummel believes that technology has not come close to its ultimate potential. He doesn’t even rule out some form of “mind link” between human and machine.
During 2008 McLeod, assisted by Gonzalez, gutted the F90 panel and installed all new instrumentation including a pair of EFI890R displays. Typical F90 avionics test flights run 90 min out of TUS.
While Bombardier Aerospace TUS typically supports the Challenger 601-3A when it’s in the area McLeod and Gonzalez take care of assorted avionics and software upgrades.
At the Challenger 601 end of the operation both Naimer and Spoerl take recurrent training together and complete at least one global circumnavigation annually. In evaluating additional flight department lift Naimer is considering replacing the King Air 350 with a Part 25 light jet.
“We’d like something we can use for company transport but also with a big enough flightdeck to accommodate avionics development projects,” he says. Also on Naimer’s prospective shopping list may be a lighter aircraft than the 601-3A to commute within Europe and access the short strip at ZJI more effectively.
“We’re considering a light jet—perhaps the Embraer Phenom 300—but I’m also interested in the Piaggio P180 Avanti. A Pilatus PC12 could handle most of our missions effectively. However, it’s single-engine and we’re constantly flying across the Alps into icing conditions.”