PAST & PRESENT

Rockwell Collins celebrates 80 years in the aircraft electronics business

Arthur Collins developed combined instruments, flight directors and a host of panel innovations that improved safety for pilots and pax.


Entering the world of aviation

By the late 1960s, the Collins aircraft fleet included a Beech 18 and 3 Grumman G159 Gulfstream turboprops.

First airborne application of a Collins radio was in 1934 for the Goodyear blimp Enterprise. While sales prospects to the blimp world were somewhat limited, Collins envisioned great potential for radio sales to up-and-coming business and commercial aviation markets.

US Presidential Boeing C137 entered service in 1962 using communications equipment developed and manufactured by Collins.

A major challenge with aviation radios in the 1930s was the need to use a number of different transmitting frequencies within a short period. It took valuable time to retune radios from one channel to another. Collins' solution—the Autotune 96J—allowed pilots to select up to 100 different frequencies quickly on Collins airborne radios.

Arthur Collins' genius was in combining mechanical engineering principles with those of electronics to link tuning controls of a transmitter into one common dialing system. With development of the Autotune, Collins entered the world of aviation communications in a big way.

Autotune 96J. Four of these were connected to a larger 96K head to allow the pilot to select 100 frequencies on the Collins 17H radio.

During WWII Collins Radio supplied more than 35,000 Model TCS radios for use in small vessels and land vehicles.

Meanwhile, Collins AN/ART13 airborne transmitters, introduced in 1940, were credited with saving lives of many Allied pilots during the war and became a common feature within Boeing B29 Superfortress radio rooms.

Major postwar growth for Collins Radio was in the civil aviation world—particularly business aircraft. Arthur Collins recognized potential of the growing business aviation market and invested company resources in research and development early. Collins Radio philosophy was to make it easy for the pilot and to build equipment so reliable that the chances of failure were extremely small.

One of the company's first GA radios was a 100-watt, 20-channel high-frequency unit known as the 18S and more than 500 were delivered in 1947. Collins Radio introduced its first flight director system in 1950 and its first aviation weather radar system—the WP­101—in 1955.

By the late 50s the traditional approach to radio product development—individual units designed to meet individual needs—was becoming obsolete. The trend, carrying through to today, was to develop complete aviation systems capable of performing many functions.

The space age

Collins Radio employees conduct tests on the Apollo command module communication and data system equipment.

Radio and data communication systems developed for the US space program had important technological spinoffs for business aviation.

Collins was selected for Project Mercury in 1958 to supply onboard communications equipment for the manned space program.

Collins provided equipment for communication, command functions, data telemetry, precision tracking and rescue beacons. Success in the Mercury program led to Collins equipment being selected for all 10 Gemini 2-man space missions. This led to a NASA contract for all 3-man Apollo space expeditions.

Collins designed and manufactured communications and data systems used in 22 Apollo space capsules. When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in Jul 1969, it was Collins equipment that provided live broadcast of Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin's first steps on the lunar surface.

Modern business aviation

Head-up displays (HUDs) put flight information directly in front of the pilot.

Collins Radio was a pioneer in development of practical CRT flightdeck displays. CRT technology had been around since the 1940s but was limited in aviation application due to weight, complex circuitry and lack of display brightness. By the early 70s Collins had begun experimenting with CRTs as PFDs.

The company's shadow mask tube technology led to a booming market for daylight-readable full-color displays beginning with a 1978 Boeing order for CRT PFDs for Boeing 757s and 767s. Rockwell Collins introduced the industry's first FAA certified EFIS display, for the Boeing 767, in 1982.

This integrated avionics system included not only CRT-based PFDs but a completely digital flightdeck—an industry first and a significant technological step. This led to an entire new line of digital radios for business aviation and launch of Pro Line 2 product line in 1983.

Another key Rockwell Collins milestone was development, in the late 1980s, of large reliable LCD displays—with less power consumption and longer service life—for the new Pro Line 4 system.

Initial applications of Pro Line 4 included the Bombardier CRJ 100, Beechjet 400A, Saab 2000 and Embraer EMB145. In 1991, this technology was selected for Dassault's Falcon 2000.

Cockpit of the Beech 2000 Starship 1 turboprop featured a Pro Line 4 avionics system. It was the first business aircraft with an all-glass cockpit.

Pro Line 21—a family of flexible avionics system solutions designed for a wide range of aircraft and missions—was introduced in 1995. The system integrated Rockwell Collins FMS, 10-in LCD displays, high-quality GPS receivers and satellite-based communications spurring bizav market penetration across the industry.

Designed to be adaptable to a variety of flightdeck configurations Pro Line 21 could be configured with 2–5 adaptive displays. This marked an important step in Collins' development of common core, scalable avionics architecture. First bizav application of Pro Line 21 was Bombardier's Challenger 300.

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