Modern helicopter cockpit avionics now rival fixed-wing bizjet panels

Moving firmly in the direction of advanced flightdeck technology, improved V/STOL operational capability and safety are available.

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

Development of the modern flightdeck for helicopters has always been paced about 10 years behind fixed-wing aircraft. During past years weight and cost have been the principal villains but new technologies have mostly eliminated those excuses.

Now, pioneering helicopter OEMs and avionics companies have applied imaginative designs for helicopter functions and worked to bring costs down to create affordable and high-value cockpit instruments with great performance. These new helicopter marvels meet the demands of the rotorcraft environment and are every bit as good as those serving pilots in modern fixed-wing aircraft.

Now the challenge is to move the designs and capabilities of these modern avionics still further. So the questions are turning now to what's the difference? Can I do something new? Will it keep me safer? Can I operate more efficiently? Or is this fancy widget a piece of gear that I'm not going to be so happy about as the days go by? To help keep avionics manufacturers focused, the helicopter industry has been moved to offer competitive and discriminating differences with value.

The industry must also deal with the operational safety aspects that come from the expansion of helicopters as a primary means of transportation for offshore oil use, EMS, search-and-rescue, airborne law enforcement and corporate executive use. During the summer of 2010, a series of US Congressional hearings on helicopter safety resulted in many basic changes to instrument flight, night flight over water and helicopter instrument equipage necessities.

And the storm over a number of North Sea accidents with helicopters has provided almost a daily serving of press raking in Europe. But the utility of the helicopter and the expansion to operating in IMC around the clock and around the world have also provided the key ingredients to innovation. And that thinking process has led to investment and change in rotorcraft that has benchmarked a point in time where modern and safe flightdecks for helicopters are no longer an emergent technology.

Notable to the last 2 years, there have been significant announcements in both helicopter flightdeck innovations and their inclusion by the OEMs—not just of a tease of things to come. MD Helicopters announced with Universal Avionics the launch of a new flightdeck for their MD530F, Sikorsky certified the Thales TopDeck and Bell expanded offerings of Garmin's Helo line with the G1000H and the G500H flightdecks.

Major developments at Honeywell include their synthetic vision (SV) helicopter program with Combined Vision, TAWS and Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS infrared). This is the first real integration of these technologies into helicopter specific operations. The move by Rockwell Collins to increase the gain of SVS database capability was another significant innovation, as is Cobham's design of both flightdeck and Stability Augmentation Systems (SAS).

Another element of these developments is the inclusion of ADS-B functionality to the helicopter operation, and the addition of weather, datalink, TAWS and TCAS. Once affordable electronic flightdecks really make it to the marketplace, the new tools of situational awareness, realtime weather and TCAS will provide a level of safety that we just won't hear about because routine safety just isn't newsworthy.

And the full replacement of the blue over brown EFIS with SVS type displays is a new standard that many aviators will find difficult to operate comfortably without. The aftermarket segment of dedicated helicopter avionics now also has a variety of selection and price points suitable for a range of aircraft—not just small editions of radios etc. The Garmin G500H proved this point.

Universal Avionics

The EFI-890H is based on a lightweight 8.9-inch diagonal LCD display that can provide PFD and Nav Display with video functions. It also supports the display of Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS), broadcast weather, infrared and color cameras as well as other interfaces.

In 2012 Universal Avionics introduced the EFI-890H Flat Panel Display for helicopters, and later at the 2013 Heli-Expo it was announced by MD Helicopters that a new program had been developed by Universal to upgrade the MD 902 NOTAR with a very capable Universal package.

The MD 902 is a favorite of many for local law enforcement, air rescue and utility, and the partnership with Universal now offers MD 902 operators a modern single-pilot IFR flightdeck that includes synthetic vision, electronic charts and display graphics that are video and mission display capable. Design of the Universal Avionics EFI-890H and its overall architecture can accommodate several cockpit configurations for either single or multiple displays.

With the Universal Avionics EFI-890H the operator has flexibility for installation in single or multiple display architectures. The EFI-890H is based on a lightweight 8.9-inch diagonal LCD display that can provide PFD and Nav Display with video functions. The guidance on the PFD has 2 option formats that include "dual cue" cross-pointer or "single cue" V-bar overlay. The integration of Universal's Vision 1 SVS featuring terrain and guidance is a significant advantage to single-pilot and dual pilot operations.

The pilot is in tune with his flightpath no matter what is the weather. The Vision 1 was first introduced in 2005 and was the earliest leader in the SVS flight displays for fixed-wing aircraft. The EFI-890H also supports the display of Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS), broadcast weather, infrared and color cameras as well as other interfaces. A very good feature is the integration of weather information on the PFD with the HSI, with options for selecting a 360° map view and radar, or expanded 120° map view.

As part of the overall package, Universal has also integrated the Nav Display that provides electronic charts, checklists and broadcast weather. The EFI-890H also includes a collective cue flight guidance display within the PFD and Flight Guidance design for collective control when in autopilot mode.

For operation with night vision goggles (NVGs), Universal has a model option including use of the EFI-890H includes a model option with lighting filters uniquely adapted for nighttime tactical missions.

As part of Universals full swing at helicopter avionics, the company also introduced its UniLink UL-800/801 Communications Management Unit, a full ACARS-compatible CMU that include Digital Automatic Terminal Information Service (D-ATIS), pre-departure clearance, aircraft tracking, messaging, weather information and graphics. Add the famous UNS FMS packages with dedicated helicopter functionality, and you have a very modern flightdeck for your helicopter.


Garmin took the General Aviation world by storm with advanced designs as well as of affordable navigation systems based on GPS, endearing them more as a family relative than just a supplier of electronics. The company's product support has also been tops with customers.

And with further surprises, Garmin has gone on a steady path to introduce a full flightdeck of avionics and SVS in size/weight packages and affordable prices (by aviation standards) that competing avionics OEMs have had a hard time matching. Garmin's move to the helicopter world with the G500H was just the beginning, and fleet purchases by some like Blue Hawaiian Helicopters have made the point that Garmin is producing quality equipment for commercial operations.


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