Inmarsat and Hughes Network Systems have established a new strategic collaboration that will see their two satellite networks available as “GX+ North America” in-flight connectivity (IFC) for airlines flying in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Under the new partnership, GX+ North America will combine the Hughes Jupiter satellite fleet–the largest Ka-band satellite capacity over the U.S.–with Global Xpress (GX), the aviation satellite network launched by Inmarsat in 2016. Inmarsat will provide end-to-end management of the GX+ North America, which will be enabled by a Thinkom Ka-band flat panel antenna and a “dual aero modem,” according to an Oct. 20 press release.
“This unique strategic collaboration leverages the full power of the JUPITER System, including the depth of capacity of our Ka-band High-Throughput Satellite fleet, as well as our JUPITER gateways and modems,” Paul Gaske, Executive Vice President and General Manager, North America division at Hughes, said in a statement.
The modem is capable of choosing the “optimal satellite path with no service interruption or delay for passengers,” according to Inmarsat.
Philip Balaam, president of Inmarsat Aviation, told Avionics International that GX+ North America will not require any aircraft modifications or upgrades to existing aircraft equipped with Inmarsat connectivity. The combination of their GX satellites with Jupiter will bring a leap in capacity available to airliners that is “orders of magnitude” above what is available today, according to Balaam.
“Technologically it’s really not that complicated,” Balaam said. “The onboard technology remains the same, what you have now is a new layer that will enable you to work either on one satellite network or the other. You can switch from one to the other with no interruption.”
According to Inmarsat, prototype flights for GX+ North America are expected to begin later this year, with commercial availability scheduled for 2021. The Hughes partnership also comes as Inmarsat continues to expand its existing GX network.
The company plans on launching new GX satellites, including their sixth through ninth generation satellites by 2023. Balaam said the partnership was driven by what they see as a need for expanded availability of capacity for IFC to allow more streaming and usage of modern Internet services in-flight.
“What this will do is it will bring a very significant increase in capacity to the aircraft. What that really does is to allow the airline to unlock their ambitions in terms of providing services to passengers. Today they’re not really providing the services they want, they’re not providing the full fast and free Internet to the whole cabin at the moment in the way they desire. The legacy systems are just too capacity constrained and they’re going to remain capacity constrained,” Balaam said.
The increase in regional operations compared to international flying due to unpredictable changes in border policies under the COVID-19 pandemic is also well aligned to the regional coverage that GX+ North America will provide. While the number of passengers flying onboard aircraft right now is significantly lower on a global basis compared to 2019, those who are flying are connecting more than ever according to Balaam.
“We’ve been looking at this, what we’re seeing from the airlines with whom we currently work is that passenger behavior has changed during COVID, we’re seeing far higher usage per passenger per session when they get on an aircraft now,” Balaam said. “We have examples elsewhere in the world where we have carriers providing full free capacity to their passengers and you can stream on that without a problem. Often we have take-up rates of 40 percent on some of the long-haul flights, streaming, audio, video, browsing, etc. We want to bring that to the U.S. market because we feel that the North American market in particular is absolutely ready for that.”
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Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) has completed its first aircraft structural inspections using a drone in an effort to speed up inspection times.
According to an Oct. 20 press release, the inspection was completed using a custom-built drone supplied by New Jersey-based technology startup Luftronix. Ukrainian aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider MAUtechnic–a sister company to UIA–helped conduct the inspections at its Boryspil International Airport hangar in Kiev.
“After years of working day and night to ensure safety and precision of our scanning equipment, we see our cooperation with MAUtechnic and UIA as a major milestone in introducing our technology to the aviation industry,” Klaus Sonnenleiter, President and CEO at Luftronix, said in a press statement. “We see this as a chance to preserve the result of each inspection, make them comparable and have inspections conducted much faster and much more efficiently than it was possible in the past.”
UIA is not the first airline to use drones for structural inspections. U.K.-based low cost carrier Easyjet became one of the first operators to start seriously evaluating the concept back in 2015. American Airlines, Air New Zealand and Austrian Airlines have all run trials using drones aimed at reducing structural inspection times as well.
The scans taken by the drones can measure the distance from the surface and curvature of the object for precise measurements and guarantee a consistent surface resolution, according to Luftronix. These scans can also be saved to analyze change over time.
The drones have built-in redundancies for critical instruments and can even account for safety-relevant scenarios and unexpected events, such as foreign objects, ladder, ropes, or other drones, according to the release. The drones also use multiple fallback systems to prevent in-flight accidents caused by equipment failures.
“Our focus is always on the quality of our maintenance, safety of passengers and flawless operation of all aircraft systems,” Volodymyr Polishchuk, Quality Assurance Manager at MAUtechnic, said in a press statement. “It was encouraging to see the Luftronix team sharing the same values and perspectives.”
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MVT Geo-solutions has received approval from Transport Canada to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight in uncontrolled airspace in Alma, Quebec.
The Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) granted to MVT by Transport Canada will be only the second BVLOS waiver issued to operate in Canadian airspace and the first such waiver in Quebec. The SFOC will open the door for more complex flights in the future.
“Obtaining this SFOC is a first in Quebec,” Alain Fortin, President of the UAS Center of Excellence, said in a press statement. “As a Canadian pioneer in the civil and commercial RPAS industry, Alma’s CED is proud to have contributed to the development of technologies and skills that speed up the advent of safe and well-integrated BVLOS flight in Canadian airspace.”
MVT Geo-solutions, a geo-environmental and geo-technical contractor, Iris Automation, a safety avionics technology company, and UAS Center of Excellence (CED Alma) will be partnering under this SFOC to operate the flights. The BVLOS operations will conduct linear power line inspections, enabled by detect-and-avoid (DAA) technology supplied by Iris, Sean Deverey, the company’s director of government affairs told Avionics International in an email.
Iris’ DAA system, Casia, provides commercial drones with automated collision avoidance maneuvers that is essential for BVLOS flights. Unlike other DAA technology, Casia does not use ground-based radars or visual observers. It has been approved twice by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States for BVLOS FAA-sanctioned flights.
“Iris Automation’s Casia is the first onboard DAA solution to safely enable commercial BVLOS operations for unmanned aircraft systems, Devery said. “The system allows a UAS to see and react to the aviation environment around the aircraft. Casia detects other aircraft, uses computer-vision algorithms to classify them, makes intelligent decisions about the threat they may pose to the drone, and then triggers an alert to the pilot in command and automates maneuvers to safely avoid collisions.”
Flight missions that come from the SFOC will lead to more complex missions in the future such as infrastructure inspection, mining, mapping, agriculture, emergency response, and package delivery.
“This permission further demonstrates how the Casia onboard detect-and-avoid system is helping to advance the safety case for drone usage while simultaneously expanding the envelope of drone-related use cases,” Jon Damush, CEO of Iris Automation, said in a press statement. “Drones offer tremendous promise in terms of safety and economics as compared to piloted aviation alternatives, but we must integrate them into the airspace safely. Seeing and avoiding other aircraft is paramount to that safety, and steps like this are key to unlocking the promise of drones.”
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Check out the Oct. 18 edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the latest headlines happening across the global aerospace industry.
Delta Air Lines reported a $5.4 billion loss for the third quarter of 2020 in an Oct. 13 press release.
The Atlanta-based career attributed $4 billion in losses directly to the impact of COVID-19 “and the company’s response, including fleet-related restructuring charges and charges for voluntary separation and early retirement programs for Delta employees, which were partially offset by the benefit of the CARES Act grant recognized in the quarter,” Delta said.
“With a slow and steady build in demand, we are restoring flying to meet our customers’ needs, while staying nimble with our capacity in light of COVID-19,” said Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s president. “While it may be two years or more until we see a normalized revenue environment, by restoring customer confidence in travel and building customer loyalty now, we are creating the foundation for sustainable future revenue growth.”
Operating revenue was down 79 percent and capacity was reduced by 63 percent compared to the same period in 2019. The company has announced plans to accelerate retirements of nearly 400 aircraft by 2025, including more than 200 in 2020.
Lufthansa will be deploying four of the Airbus A350-900s currently parked in Munich to its hub in Frankfurt this winter.
“Over the next few months the A350-900 will be serving Chicago and Los Angeles from Frankfurt, by temporarily replacing the Boeing 747-8 for this period of time. From December onwards, the ultra-modern A350-900 will also be flying from Frankfurt on the route to Tokyo/Haneda instead of the Airbus A340-300,” the airline said in a Oct. 13 press release.
Lufthansa’s A350-900 fleet currently encompasses 16 Munich- based aircraft. Due to the sharp reduction in the number of flights offered as a result of the corona pandemic, only seven A350-900s will initially be operated at Munich in the winter timetable of 20/21 on routes to North America and Asia.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rolled out a new rule on Oct. 15 that it says takes a new, streamlined approach for commercial spaceflight.
The biggest change is that it allows launchers to use a single license for multiple launches and reentries, from multiple launch sites, valid up to five years. It allows for early review for applications submitted in increments. The rule also allows operators to request to have a means of compliance approved to accommodate customized operations, changing technologies and innovation.
Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation Wayne Monteith said in a webcast announcing the update that the new rule is a set of flexible, performance-based regulations, and streamlined operational approvals. The former rule was mostly developed in the 1990s, and hadn’t had a significant update since 2006.
Check out the full story on Via Satellite, a sister publication to Avionics.
NASA has chosen 14 companies for contract awards to develop technologies for Artemis operations on the Moon, including about $260 million to a group including Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance (ULA), andSpaceX to develop cryogenic fluid management. The awards, announced Wednesday, have an expected combined award value of more than $370 million.
For cryogenic fluid management technology demonstrations, small business Eta Space will receive $27 million for a small-scale flight demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen fluid management system, which will be the primary payload on a Rocket Lab Photon satellite. Lockheed Martin will receive $89.7 million for an in-space demonstration mission using liquid hydrogen. SpaceX will receive $53.2 million for large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant, specifically liquid oxygen, between tanks on a Starship vehicle. And ULA will receive $86.2 million to demonstrate a smart propulsion cryogenic system, using liquid oxygen and hydrogen, on a Vulcan Centaur upper stage.
Check out the full story on Via Satellite, a sister publication to Avionics.
The Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar (SABR) for U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters by Lockheed Martin has achieved full operational capability (FOC), Northrop Grumman said on Oct. 15.
The radar is to provide 5th generation radar features akin to those on the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 for the legacy fighter, which first flew in 1974.
Such new, Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) features include beyond line of sight, longer range air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting of multiple targets, such as air defense radars and cruise/surface to air missiles, and all-weather, high-resolution, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) ground mapping for improved strike.
The Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO) is looking to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and spoofing for the Pentagon’s joint counter-drone defense systems, Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, director of the Army-led JCO, told reporters on Thursday, Oct. 15.
The JCO is set to announce industry requirements for Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft (C-sUAS) at an open house on Oct. 30.
Gainey said the use of AI in JCO strategy is critical. The JOC wants to use AI/ML to reduce operator stress by increasing response reaction, increasing systems compensating technologies, and reducing complexity, Col. Marc Pelini, division chief for capabilities and requirements in the JOC, told reporters. Reducing complexity will allow counter UAS to be used by more operators.
“They want a MOS or military specialty agnostic capability that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, pick up intuitively so everyone is a counter UAS operator,” Pelini said.
Check out the full story on Defense Daily, a sister publication to Avionics.
Thales has released a new compact airborne surveillance radar, AirMaster C, that has a “30 percent lower SWaP (size, weight, and power) with enhanced target detection capabilities for fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), according to a press release.
The AirMaster C weighs less than 20 kilograms and is able to self-cool because it has programmable 2D active antenna based silicon-germanium (SiGe) technology. The radar can select optimal settings to maximize detection performance on missions by using multi-polarization and it works similar to the human eye using short-range and long-range detection capabilities, according to the release.
“With this new product, Thales offers an optimized surveillance solution for a broader array of platform types and operators, ensuring they benefit from the highest levels of mission performance as they face the new challenges ahead,” Hervé Hamy, Vice President for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) at Thales, said of the new radar.
The AirMaster C can be used in any environment and is set to be tested on the Airbus H160M Guépard.
Alteia, an enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) platform focused on visual intelligence, partners with GE Digital and Microsoft, according to a press release. Both companies will use Aleia’s capabilities to streamline AI adoption for inventory, energy management, predictive maintenance, and equipment reliability issues.
GE Digital, a subsidiary of General Electric, will be utilizing AI solutions for its analytics software portfolio, which will save time and value for mission-critical solutions, according to the release.
“Predictive analytics and Network Digital Twins are changing the way digital utilities make business decisions as the benefits of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are recognized across the industry,” Sean Moser, Senior Vice President of Product Management for GE Digital’s Grid Software business, said in a statement. “Management of vegetation in transmission and distribution corridors is key to providing a reliable supply of electricity to ensure public and worker safety. Our Visual Intelligence solution will provide data-driven insights to reduce operational costs of survey data management, increase reliability and safety, and reduce liability risk.”
Microsoft will use Alteia’s capabilities to enhance its cloud infrastructure and marketplace. Alteia will be utilizing Microsoft Azure for infrastructure and elastic computing capabilities.
“Through this partnership, Microsoft and Alteia will help our customers accelerate their digital transformation and find new ways to drive innovation with AI thanks to the Alteia platform based on Microsoft Azure,”Agnès Van de Walle, Director OCP at Microsoft France, said in a statement. “Alteia, with its recognized expertise in imagery analysis and visual intelligence, is a strategic partner for Microsoft, and together we will help customers across a number of industries address their maintenance, productivity, and management issues.”
A new laptop-based interface, Scalable Command & Control (SC2), is coming to the Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to reduce operator workload and automating more mundane tasks, according to a press release. SC2 is created by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an American energy and defense corporation.
SC2 works through automated checklists and optimizes operator steps for everything from pre-flight to status monitoring and payload control by using a collection of software applications, according to the press release. This allows operators to focus on more complex mission objectives.
“SC2 incorporated significant automation and cognitive workload reduction for GE-ER operators, allowing them to focus on mission tasks,” GA-ASI President, David R. Alexander, said in a statement. “SC2’s pre-flight automation reduces emplacement and mission launch timelines by 75 percent from the currently-fielded Ground Control Station (GCS).”
The new laptop-based interface will allow for fewer logistical burdens when operating GE-ER UAS because 100 percent of the functionalities of the Ground Control Station (GCS) shelter can be hosted on the SC2.
The Army will be able to reduce its logistical footprint of the GE-ER platoon using SC2.
“This capability will eliminate over 100,000 pounds of Army vehicles in each GE-ER platoon, providing maximum flexibility to unit commanders on the MDO battlefield,” Alexander said.
Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions, Inc. (Eve) has been launched as a new, independent company dedicated to accelerating the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ecosystem, according to an Oct. 15 Embraer press release.
André Stein, former head of strategy for EmbraerX, has been appointed CEO of Eve. The company has been tasked with the progression and certification of Embraer’s first electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (eVTOL), the associated comprehensive services and support network, and the creation of urban air traffic management solutions.
Cathay Pacific is preparing to launch a new in-flight Wi-Fi portal supplied by Deutsche Telekom to streamline the in-flight Wi-Fi login, payment system, and sign-on process for passengers.
The selection of Deutsche Telekom, the German broadband mobile communications provider, will bring pre and post-flight capabilities to Cathay’s fleet of connected aircraft. Cathay features Gogo 2Ku on its fleet of Boeing 777s and Panasonic Avionics on its Airbus A330/350 fleets.
“The single portal approach will allow Cathay Pacific to continuously launch new features harmonized over all platforms independent of the connectivity solution,” Deutsche Telekom said in an Oct. 14 press release.
“In today’s highly connected world, providing a truly seamless and consistent Wi-Fi experience for our passengers is important to ensuring we are always delivering on that commitment,” said Vivian Lo, general manager of customer experience and design at Cathay Pacific. “This new partnership with Deutsche Telekom provides us with a robust platform that offers the versatility and consistency necessary to meet the needs of both our airlines and our customers.”
According to Deutsche Telekom’s website, their Wi-Fi portal is also used by Air France, Garuda Indonesia, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic among others. Their portal is enabled by a software development kit provided to airlines who customize the interface, login process, and payment methods for passengers while also syncing it to their respective in-flight connectivity service.
The portal also includes a post-flight reporting system that allows airlines to analyze trends across passenger engagement.
“Deutsche Telekom has proven to be a reliable partner offering strong support and high flexibility, and we look forward to working with them as we continue to enhance the Wi-Fi experience we provide to our passengers through this new portal,” she added.
The selection of the portal comes as the Hong Kong-based airline continues to experience the financial impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Last month, Cathay Pacific Group reported a 98 percent year over year revenue passenger kilometer decrease for August 2020 compared to the same period a year ago. Passenger load factors were also down by 60 percentage points in August, and through the first eight months of the year, the number of passengers carried by Cathay has dropped by 82 percent year over year.
Cathay expects to start rolling out the new service across its A350 later this year, followed by the 777 and A330 fleet.
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AdaCore, a commercial software solutions company, is developing new software capabilities like reuse and portability while adapting to open system standards that are becoming more common within avionics systems. Franco Gasperoni, CEO of AdaCore, spoke with Avionics International about the changes his company is making and what future capabilities he wants to develop within the standards.
AdaCore does not directly use the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) standards because they do not develop avionics systems, instead, they are working to help their customers develop FACE conformant software. Gasperoni said one of the main areas they are focusing on with FACE is reuse capabilities.
The FACE technical standard provides requirements for constructing avionics software. Conforming to these requirements ensures that software products are safe, secure, and functional. Through its streamlined process, the FACE approach aims to lower software development and integration costs, and, by doing so, boost avionics abilities.
Gasperoni recently spoke about his work with FACE at a Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM). Following the TIM, one of his takeaways was the convergence of the military service branches and how they all work together. This is essential knowledge for Gasperoni since his company supplies software for many defense contractors.
“I got a sense they were really trying to pull their avionics efforts together under this MOSA umbrella and it wasn’t just FACE, and that’s because FACE just covers one aspect of the problem that the DoD is trying to solve, which is how can we reuse the pre-developed components that worked on other aircraft on new planes,” Gasperoni said.
Gasperoni said he understood that the Department of Defense (DoD) was looking towards platform integration and modeling because the best reuse cases happen at the model level where everything falls underneath, and more components can be reused.
“If they’re pooling their components and their models together, then model-based systems engineering is going to be a central aspect of their reuse strategy,” Gasperoni said. “It really reinforces one of the things that we were thinking, the defense industry, and not only defense but the avionics industry at large, is going, which is model-based, engineering. If you think about it, you’re starting at a very high level to model the system, you know with things like system outputs, and as you go down you go to Simulink, and to automatic code generation–the more you automate the easier it is for us.”
Reuse also helps with another goal: portability.
“You can say yeah we can use most of this stuff but if you’re going to spend millions in trying to transport it to a new architecture, or a new operating system, then it sort of defeats the reuse,” Gasperoni said.
AdaCore joined the Open Group’s FACE consortium in 2012 and became a principal member last year. According to Gasperoni, they have allocated staff to participate in the development and monitoring of the FACE standards. In doing this they have made sure their products directly support customers using the FACE conformant software in Ada.
“We have to pay attention to it [FACE] then so engineering adapts to say okay this standard is important for our customers and so we’re going to make our relevant products FACE compliant,” Gasperoni said.
According to Gasperoni, a key element is runtime libraries, which AdaCore provides. These allow customers to have concurrency as part of their application in a portable fashion.
“Everybody can do concurrency, and everybody can do it in every language. The challenge is, can you do it portably,” Gaspersoni said.
Gasperoni said he is developing a coding standard that will check if the features a customer is using in an application are FACE compliant. When looking towards the future, Gasperoni is excited about the development of what he called the proof engine.
“One of the things which is very exciting, and that we’re working on is incorporating, is a proof engine, where you can check and you can specify in your program properties and you can do it if you want to do it in C, you can do it in C and if you want to do it in ADA, you can do it in ADA, by specifying those properties,” Gasperoni said.
The proof technologies demonstrate that customers should put restrictions on the type of features they use with software languages. Using the concept of a code-proofing technology is to add a double check to avionics systems that would work like spell-checking.
“The developer, the software engineer, has to make a big jump between those things where humans are good, at creative thinking, at a big picture architecture, and things that are a bit tedious,” Gasperoni said.
Gasperoni said that while humans have more computational power to do certain tasks, computers add a lot more value in these areas.
“But when that is off, then we can say you know what, this I will let check the computer and if you got something wrong, the computer will tell you and fix it,” Gasperoni said.
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Elbit Systems is reimagining in-flight helmet-mounted display (HMD) technology with its X-Sight, which uses an augmented reality system and multispectral sensors that will allow pilots to fly faster at lower altitudes with a greater field of view. The X-Sight was developed to be used in the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.
During an Association of the United States Army (AUSA) webinar hosted by Elbit Systems, Mark Stiner, senior director at Elbit America, said the X-Sight will allow pilots to reimagine their entire cockpit.
“You can really reimagine your entire cockpit and your instrument panel can be focused much less on relaying information to the pilot about the aircraft systems,” Stiner said. “Torque, TGT, all of these types of information that are aircraft status monitoring can be presented in real-time to the pilot the head-up display. When the pilot does want to come inside the cockpit, there can be a much more interactive system using large-area displays to enhance targeting, maneuvering, and mission planning, all while in flight.”
The X-Sight sensors allow pilots to digest and take in more flight information. Elbit Systems is able to fuse sensor data with flight data to create an overlay with 3D conformal symbology and synthetic vision symbology (SVS). X-Sight can also be used with the helicopter’s sensors to create a “transparent cockpit,” which would allow pilots to have 360-degree views.
It also uses augmented reality with the sensor data and the high-resolution capabilities of the X-Sight to allow pilots to fly with more natural vision through obstacles, terrain, and adverse weather conditions. The X-Sight gives pilots a 1920×1200-pixel resolution display and uses binocular color display.
“We believe that [higher resolution display] coupled with the augmented reality to use all of the sensors multispectral sensors to highlight any sorts of hazard to flight will enable the ATM [air traffic management] tasks to be rewritten on Future Vertical Lift platforms to allow them to fly significantly faster at lower altitudes to make them more survivable,” Stiner said.
Steiner said the integrated digital night vision is a key design feature on the X-Sight because it has the same capabilities as the newest white phosphor goggles and an integrated battery backup.
“In the case of a total aircraft electrical failure at night, the pilot retains full symbology and weapons capability for sensor and night vision operations,” Steiner said.
Pilots will not need a special helmet to use the X-Sight with no special modification because it is compatible with the standard HGU 56P helmet and has an optical inertial tracker built into the visor. The X-Sight visor is an aircraft system that the pilots can attach to their standard helmets when they get into the aircraft. The tracker is built into the visor, which also eliminates the need for pre-flight or run up preparation, saving pilots time, according to Stiner.
Elibit Systems HMDs are used on the Apache and the F-35. The new X-Sight design could provide the Army with a common HMD for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), according to Stiner.
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On this episode of the Connected Aircraft Podcast, Brad Grady, principal analyst for Northern Sky Research (NSR), gives some updates and insight on how COVID-19 is continuing to impact in-flight connectivity, antenna technology, the concept of free in-flight Internet, and more.
Grady has given presentations at the Global Connected Aircraft Summit in recent years and leads a group of NSR Analysts focused on Aeronautical and Land-Mobile opportunities, and authors NSR’s Maritime [satellite communications] SATCOM Markets, Energy SATCOM Markets, and Government and Military satellite technologies, according to his profile.
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A test pilot gave viewers insight into the flying experience and X2 Technology capabilities of the Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Defiant during an Oct. 14 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) webcast hosted by Boeing and Sikorsky. The Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Defiant is part of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.
Bill Fell, a senior experimental test pilot for the S-97 Raider and SB>1 Defiant, explained how the new X2 Technology including rigid rotor system, advanced drive system, and fly-by-wire controls give pilots more control response and maneuverability while flying low altitudes at high speeds.
Fell, who has experience flying Blackhawks and Apaches, compared his experience flying with articulated rotors to Defiant’s new rigid rotor.
“There’s a similar increase in capability when you go from that articulated rotor to that rigid rotor that makes it fly more like a tactical jet than a helicopter it’s very, very quick the response that you can get out of the aircraft,” Fell said.
Ken Eland, senior director of FVL and Future Long-Range Attack Assault (FLRAA) program manager at Boeing, said the X2 Technology allows for more survivability and maneuverability.
“When you look at the capability of an X2 platform with the counter-rotating rigid rotor and the propulsor behind it, you get this combination of a highly maneuverable aircraft,” Eland said. “A rigid rotor is very different than most aircraft so it gives a much better control response for the pilot and then of course the pusher prop brings a whole different level. Most aircraft today, most typical helicopters, work through speed through the pitch of the aircraft. We’ve now become pitch independent with the propulsor system.”
Eland said the Defiant is capable of over 230 knots, which is almost twice the speed of the Blackhawk and the requirement for the FVL program. The fly-by-wire control system allows Defiant to have increased maneuverability at high speeds and low altitudes.
“We can tune that with the flight controls so that we can make it as aggressive as you want the aircraft to be if you’re low and fast through the trees and you’re maneuvering to avoid enemy contact, or you can de-tune it a little bit if you’re flying in the clouds you’re doing an instrument mission, where you don’t want a hot machine and then you tune it appropriately for that mission,” Fell said. “So, the combination of the rigid rotor and the fly-by-wire flight control system adds enormous capability to the Army mission.”
It also allows pilots to use sensors to program systems like autopilot landing which reduces the workload of the pilot and allows their focus to be on the mission, Fell said.
The pusher prop gives the aircraft extra acceleration and deceleration capabilities that have not been previously available. While the acceleration capabilities allow the aircraft to avoid enemy contact, the deceleration capabilities allow the pilot to land the aircraft with more precision.
“The fact is that the helicopters that we have today when you come into that landing zone, you’re going to have to pull the nose up pretty good to slow down if you keep the speed on until the very last moment,” Fell said. “However, with the X2 technology, as you come into that landing zone, you don’t have to do that. You can look at the landing zone the entire time you’re coming into the zone and adjust the thrust on the propulsor so that you stop and you can even stop with the nose a little bit down from the vertical position to give you a better vantage point.”
The X2 uses the pusher prop to give the aircraft both positive and negative pitch. This allows the aircraft to stop quickly even when hitting its top speeds.
“As you’re cruising along at 200 knots, 230 knots, 250 knots, pick the number, that you put that negative pitch onto the pusher prop and you really do kind of feel it tug on your shoulder straps that you’re stopping very rapidly,” Fell said.
Eland said the propulsor system has allowed the aircraft to become pitch independent which will add to its maneuverability capabilities.
Defiant is part of the FLRAA competitive demonstration and risk reduction (CD&RR) in the Army. Bell is also competing in the project with its V-280 Valor. CD&RR is expected to extend over two years with final Army requirements and program of record planned for competition in 2022, according to the Army. FLRAA is expected to achieve a first equipped aircraft in FY30.
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A preliminary design review (PDR) of a Full Motion Video Data Link (FMVDL) for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is planned before the end of the year, according to the company.
“Overall FMVDL development, including aircraft installation, is progressing per plan to field in 2024,” per Lockheed Martin.
In June last year, Lockheed Martin awarded Cubic Mission Systems a contract to provide FMVDL for the F-35 to give Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) full-motion video and thus better situational awareness for improved targeting and fewer chances of fratricide and collateral damage.
The F-35 is to receive enhanced close air support (CAS) capabilities through the Block 4 software upgrade program, which the Government Accountability Office estimated will cost $10.5 billion.
While the aging Air Force A-10 provides the bulk of close air support, the service has not prioritized a follow-on to the A-10. Last year, under the Light Attack Aircraft experiment, the Air Force chose to buy several Embraer–Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) A-29 Super Tucano aircraft and Textron AT-6 Wolverine turboprops.
In the absence of an Air Force charge toward an A-10 successor, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has stepped in. The DoD fiscal 2021 budget request includes $106 million for SOCOM’s armed overwatch program for armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and airborne forward air control. The program is to be a three-phased competition culminating in a live-fly demonstration next month.
Likely competitors for armed overwatch include Embraer-SNC, Textron, Air Tractor, and Leidos, which plans to offer the Bronco II multi-mission aircraft in a team with Paramount Group USA and Vertex Aerospace.
The command plans to examine the offerings ahead of a potential downselect to the demonstration phase next month and could award up to four contracts of $4 million ahead of a tentative production contract. SOCOM could procure up to 75 aircraft between the next five to seven years. In addition, SOCOM has said that it would also consider unmanned systems although they may be more expensive to operate than SOCOM is seeking.
SOCOM “has an operational need and requirement for light attack aircraft for combat mission advisor support,” and congressional legislators “expect the secretary of the Air Force in coordination with the commander of USSOCOM to consider options to synchronize and leverage Light Attack Aircraft experiments efforts to accelerate the procurement or development of aircraft for supporting the Combat Air Advisor mission requirements,” according to the report on the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 116-92.
Since August last year, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has not responded to email questions on requirements for FMVDL, the compatibility of F-35 avionics with the L3Harris Full-Motion Video Extension Unified Relay (FEURY) system and the L3Harris Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) system carried by JTACs for the exchange of full-motion video. ROVER is compatible with targeting pods, such as the Northrop Grumman Litening and Lockheed Martin Sniper. The JPO has said that draft responses to the questions are under security review.
This article was first published on Defense Daily, a sister publication to Avionics, it has been edited. View the full original version here.
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