Helicopter flightdeck evolution

SVS technology migrates between fixed and rotary-wing to improve safety and performance.

By Glenn Connor
Pres, Discover Technology Intl
ATP, Cessna 425

Honeywell SmartView with SV-PFD is being developed for helicopter operations, with dedicated helo SVS displays to improve performance and safety in all phases of flight.

Flightdeck technology using enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS), synthetic vision (SV) and graphical flight planning has taken a solid hold on most OEMs and users of modern, high-end corporate fixed-wing aircraft.

In fact new technology is now the norm, not the exception, and frankly pushed by the OEMs to improve performance in all regimes of flight. EFVS operations at night and in low visibility, the replacement of the old blue-over-brown PFD with a new digital terrain and obstacle view have resulted in major advances in safety features that, once you've seen them, you don't want to do without.

To illustrate the progression of this new technology within the helicopter community, we will explore the innovations and thinking behind Honeywell's Primus Epic now featured on the company's Agusta­Westland AW139. In terms of flightdeck technology, some major innovations are crossing between fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.

A newly imposed motivation for improvement of helicopter flightdecks came on Oct 12, 2010, when FAA published a major revision of air ambulance, commercial helicopter operations and Part 91 ops.

The reason was that FAA, after several well publicized accidents in 2008 and 2009, began to review operational regulations regarding VFR and IFR for the rotorcraft community. As noted by the NPRM, "many of these proposed requirements currently are found in agency guidance publications and would address NTSB safety recommendations." In other words, we need to fix safety of flight.

The results of FAA's new requirements as published in the 2010 notice is a revised and more restrictive set of operational rules which are hoped to improve the accident statistics. The notice also added specific needs for additional flightdeck equipment.

Statistics from recent reviews by NTSB and the industry show an overall decline in annual accidents, but the numbers of fatalities are trending in the wrong direction. The aircraft themselves have improved with the latest advances in flight controls, autopilots and engine performance—but the reasons behind the majority of causes have been identified as due to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), night and instrument flight.

Reported numbers and circumstances are eerily similar to the days prior to fixed-wing corporate aircraft moving from analog round dials and no EGPWS, when CFIT and approach and landing accidents (ALAs) were the primary culprits.

Honeywell's recent industry survey of the causes of accidents was conducted to provide a baseline for the company's developments in advanced displays for helicopter flightdecks.

A Honeywell industry study presented in 2010 showed that, for rotorcraft, nearly 1/3 of the causes of accidents relate to situational awareness (SA), and almost 1/4 are related to human factors. Breaking the SA accidents down further, the Honeywell study found that terrain and object collisions were almost 50% of total SA accidents, followed by weather and darkness at 30%.

FAA stated in the Oct 2010 NPRM that it was "proposing to amend regulations pertaining to all commercial helicopter operations conducted under Part 135 to include equipment requirements, pilot training and alternate airport weather minima." The new changes also include revision of Part 91 ops, specifically for VFR weather minimums.

A number of other revisions of commercial helicopter IFR, Part 135 and air ambulance operations will require improvements in equipment and flightcrew training, specifically the need to demonstrate competence in recovery from inadvertent IMC.

Honeywell's AW139 flightdeck

Primus Epic integration on Honey­well's AW139 has 2 aims—a modern flight display with performance based capability. The Honey­well AW139 configuration includes four 8 x 10-in portrait style LCD displays, divided in use as 2 PFDs, 2 MFDs.

The displays support video for infrared or other sensor video. The flight management side includes an FMS that is a multisensor navigation platform, including classic navaids as well as GPS.

H-TAWS/TCAS are also a key to the operation of this AW139, but not just in the traditional sense of a moving map and voice alerts. H-TAWS plays a major part in the integration of the current helicopter Primus Epic, and will be an element of future SVS ops, providing a real world perspective on the PFD that is also color coded to show threatening terrain or obstacles.

Analysis of the recent history of accidents by category of operator helped Honeywell in mission specific display functions and human factor designs.

On the MFD, flight planning, navaids, airports and waypoints, weather and TCAS can be displayed. Interaction with the MFD is done with a cursor control device (CCD), which allows you to tab on windows that will switch from map, plan view, system synoptic page and powerplant.

Planned future certifications of SmartView for helicopter flightdecks include WAAS LPV approaches, low RNP approaches, ADS-B, charts, maps and XM Weather. The INAV and vertical situation display (VSD) will also include layered information such as terminal boundaries, special use airspace, geopolitical boundaries and color coded terrain perspective view.

Baseline of the SmartView is built on the Honeywell Primus Epic line, first certified in 2003. Key to the early Epic architecture was a design to support software upgrades and improvements without the need for plumbing changes to the aircraft.

Primus Epic was also designed to focus more on processor and display power, and use software as the principal means of change to a flightdeck. The old style flight instruments required complicated connections to avionics boxes with a single function as well as a dedicated LRU and power supply.


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