EASA Releases Next Piece of Regulatory Guidance for Electric Air Taxis

May 27th, 2020   •   Comments Off on EASA Releases Next Piece of Regulatory Guidance for Electric Air Taxis   
EASA Releases Next Piece of Regulatory Guidance for Electric Air Taxis

EASA published a “means-of-compliance” document outlining how eVTOL manufacturers can certify electric air taxis for commercial passenger transportation. Photo: Volocopter.

Following the publication of a Special Condition for hybrid-electric and electric VTOL aircraft last year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released some details on how manufacturers can reach compliance in a document that will be open to industry comment until July 24, 2020.

The means-of-compliance (MOC) publication, EASA’s third “building block” in its path to certification and regulation of electric aircraft and urban air mobility operations, includes guidance for manufacturers on how to comply with requirements for “person-carrying small VTOL aircraft with three or more lift/thrust units used to generate powered lift and control,” according to the agency.

That description encompasses just about all distributed electric propulsion designs currently in development, including multirotor, lift-plus-thrust and vectored thrust configurations.

“Now that the industry is moving from prototypes into more mature designs, guidance on how to comply with the certification requirements is needed,” EASA stated in a press release. “The third block published today therefore proposes means of compliance for key certification requirements such as the structural design envelope, flight load conditions, crashworthiness, capability after bird impact, design of fly-by-wire systems, safety assessment process, lightning protection and minimum handling qualities rating.”

EASA’s proposed special condition, as published in July 2019, requires aircraft intended for flight over congested areas or any commercial use to encounter catastrophic failure conditions — defined as preventing continued safe flight and landing of the aircraft — less than once per 10-9 flight hours, the same failure rate required for commercial airliners.

The above chart depicts how EASA will assess potential cascading failures of lift/thrust units in eVTOL aircraft. (EASA)

The MOC document does not include any mention of artificial intelligence or autonomous systems, which EASA appears to be handling separately from the new eVTOL airframes and propulsion systems, with the agency’s roadmap targeting 2025 for its first certification of artificial intelligence-based systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently outlined a similar approach to the autonomy systems that feature heavily in planned eVTOL operations, beginning with certification “of the basic vehicles for Part 91 simplified type operations, and as we get that piece done … we’ll develop the capabilities to certify more complex systems … potentially at a later date,” as Peter White, head of the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation, said during a recent Agility Prime webinar.

Overall, however, FAA and EASA are taking opposite approaches to building regulatory regimes for eVTOL aircraft.

“While the FAA plans primarily to use the inherent flexibility of Part 23 Amendment 64, so no new regulations are required, EASA has taken the opposite approach of building a whole new regulatory framework from scratch,” said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society.

More comprehensive information on compliance with EASA regulation will be presented during the 2020 EASA Rotorcraft and VTOL Symposium scheduled for November 10-12, 2020, according to the agency.

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Investigators Reviewing Crashed Pakistan Airlines A320 Flight Data Recorder in Karachi

May 27th, 2020   •   Comments Off on Investigators Reviewing Crashed Pakistan Airlines A320 Flight Data Recorder in Karachi   
Investigators Reviewing Crashed Pakistan Airlines A320 Flight Data Recorder in Karachi

An Airbus A320 operated by Pakistan International Airlines as flight PK8303 crashed just before reaching the runway at Jinnah International Airport, pictured here. Photo: Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority

Accident investigators have recovered the flight data recorder (FDR) from the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303’s Airbus A320 that crashed upon landing on May 22 near Jinnah International Airport.

The airline has confirmed in a press release published to its website May 26 that 97 of the 99 flight crew and passengers onboard died in the crash, with just two of the passengers surviving. What caused the flight to crash is still under investigation, although the airline has provided what little details it knows so far about the fatal accident in statements published to its website and social media channels.

According to PIA, PK8303 was an Airbus A320-214 airliner registered as AP-BLD that was operating a flight from Lahore to Karachi, Pakistan. The aircraft crashed “just before the runway” according to a statement published to PIA’s Facebook page.

“Preliminary reports reveal that it was an uneventful flight up till final approach when the pilot contacted air traffic controller and gave arrival report with everything normal. On short of landing, aircraft reported technical fault and informed that it is proceeding back. Shortly after that, contact was lost and later it was reported crashed,” PIA said in the Facebook statement.

PIA is also stressing that the any speculation or statements about what the technical fault was “can only be termed best as supposition without any factual cause” until investigators have had a chance to recover and analyze some of the critical aircraft parts and systems that may have been involved in or caused the crash to occur.

In their May 26 press release, PIA also stated that a review of the A320’s registration and maintenance records shows that it was “technically sound and all aircraft are checked and cleared by engineering before flight departures.”

“CEO PIA, requested Media not to rely on speculations made by some self-acclaimed aviation experts at this time of grief and sorrow and that inquiry will be held in due course by Independent Investigation Board constituted by the Government of Pakistan to ascertain the cause of the accident,” the airline said.

The Government of Pakistan has tasked its own Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) with investigating the crash as an independent board with completing a preliminary report by September. Experts from the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), Airbus and Safran Engines also joined the investigation on May 26.

BEA provided updates about their support of the investigation via their Twitter account May 26, stating that the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder still has not been recovered. The agency is participating in support of AAIB as an accredited representative of that state of design of the aircraft involved in the accident.

“At this stage, Airbus has no confirmed information concerning the circumstances of the accident. The aircraft, registration number AP-BLD, Manufacturer Serial Number 2274, first entered service in 2004. It has been in operation with Pakistan International Airlines since 2014. The aircraft had logged around 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flight cycles as of today. It was powered by CFM56-5B4/P engines,” Airbus said in a crisis statement about the crash published to its website.

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Will E-Signatures Gain Ground as Airlines Face Unprecedented Times?

May 22nd, 2020   •   Comments Off on Will E-Signatures Gain Ground as Airlines Face Unprecedented Times?   
Will E-Signatures Gain Ground as Airlines Face Unprecedented Times?

Dan Dutton, VP R&D for Aerospace & Defense, IFS, explains how a combination of increased remote working, social distancing and regulatory measures could kick-start the use of e-signatures in airline maintenance operations.

The commercial aviation sector has felt the full force of the coronavirus pandemic, with airlines dramatically reducing their operations and some even stopping flying completely. Carriers, manufacturers and maintenance providers alike are having to adapt to meet social distancing measures as they try to continue business operations.

The desire for remote technology to play a greater role in aviation maintenance is something regulatory inspectors have supported for several years. So the news was well received when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced policy at the end of March which will allow video links and other remote technology to help conduct inspections and validate regulatory compliance moving forward.

The policy is in addition to an increasing set of procedural changes that have been implemented to accommodate social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, but the aviation industry will be thinking longer term, hoping that this change of direction is a sign of things to come.

With digital and mobile maintenance very much top of mind for the FAA, inspectors and airlines, the use of the already existing technology of e-signatures is perhaps something that has gone under the radar in recent times. A number of IFS customers have indeed been using the technology in their maintenance operations, but I foresee e-signatures now hold more value than ever given the current circumstances we find ourselves in. Here is why the industry should take full advantage of e-signature capability both during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

The Journey to Paperless Operations

The core purpose of e-signature technology is to ultimately eliminate the amount of paper in the maintenance process and help streamline critical processes inside maintenance operations. Organizations can enhance their overall efficiency when paper is removed from the equation and work is managed electronically. Typical uses for electronic documents in maintenance include airworthiness releases, maintenance releases and documents that support getting aircraft ready for release, such as job cards and technical logbooks.

Here, e-signature capability takes away the time-consuming activities associated with paper in terms of data entry, the re-keying of inaccurate information into the Management Information System (MIS), and inefficient search and retrieval.

Paper-free maintenance planning, labor, part and tool scheduling and work assignment mean that if changes occur, there is nothing to print, shuffle or distribute. All stakeholders can immediately see their new assignments as planners push electronic job cards out to a mechanic’s device.

It is this level of functionality that is helping organizations make great strides to achieving paperless maintenance operations in the future—while limiting the social interaction between workers in the short term.

Shed Paper Documents and Reap Financial Benefits of An Ecosystem

Paper in any process is a bottle neck—it is a ‘single user’ medium. Take an aircraft release for instance. The cash and goodwill cost incurred when a plane full of passengers is waiting to leave while a mechanic fills out a paper form, walks it to the cockpit for a captain’s signature and then returns it to maintenance operations can be significant. Now consider an electronic technical logbook as an example of how airlines can minimize aircraft turnaround times by reducing reliance on paper. Pilot to maintenance interaction could be digital, faster and safer—given the current need to adhere to social distancing measures.

An app-based, next generation logbook approach is how some airlines have started to address aircraft turnaround times while reducing paper-based processes. When accessible on a mobile device, this technology eliminates the need for pilots to physically sign-off logbooks and the enhanced data available from this capability means faults raised during an inbound flight can be seen in real-time. A pilot can then consider how a fault might impact flights ahead of time, preventing issues being unaddressed after an aircraft has left for its next destination.

There are similar benefits in terms of shift handover. A standard work order for some operators could be up to 200 pages long. The mechanic must then to go through every page to identify the open tasks and build a separate list for the next shift—this manual process takes time and it is easy to miss key details.

Now let’s add e-signatures. This provides a real opportunity to help operators refine their shift turnover activities, they can save potentially double-digit hours per day and hundreds of thousands of dollars from a labor standpoint.

Singing From the Same Digital Hymn Sheet

An aviation maintenance management software system should have integrated functionality that ties materials, technical records, engineering and maintenance execution together. With e-signatures and the support of an effective aviation maintenance management software system, maintenance tasks can be carried out in one system and designated as requiring digital sign-off. Software ideally will provide alerts to any errors or conflicts in real-time, ensuring all relevant information is available to the signatory before a record is signed.

When a document is electronically signed by a technician, inspector, supervisor or other maintenance personnel, it becomes an electronic record, encrypted and permanently stored in the aviation maintenance management database. These records can then be viewed and verified at any time but cannot be altered. Audit trails become much more efficient and the ability to instantly search for and retrieve a specific set of records to perhaps respond to a regulator’s request is hugely beneficial, potentially saving thousands of hours on a yearly basis.

Non-repudiation on a document and a digital trace means someone cannot deny that they have signed something, while quick searches, reports by date and the level of auditing provided by system automation enables technicians to focus on their core job of maintaining aircraft.


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Archer Aviation Officially Enters the Electric Air Taxi Race

May 22nd, 2020   •   Comments Off on Archer Aviation Officially Enters the Electric Air Taxi Race   
Archer Aviation Officially Enters the Electric Air Taxi Race

With engineering talent assembled from top players across the eVTOL industry and plenty of cash, Archer Aviation hopes to be perfecting air taxis for decades to come. Photo: Archer Aviation

Another well-capitalized startup has officially entered the passenger air taxi arena. Archer Aviation, previously reported as a stealth company located in California, is indeed building electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft at a facility near Palo Alto Airport.

With a similar vision of the future urban air mobility market as leading players like Uber, Joby Aviation and Hyundai Motors, Archer has assembled a team of top eVTOL talent to build, certify and mass manufacture a four-passenger, fully-electric, piloted aircraft intended for aerial ridesharing to address increasingly congest roads and sustainability concerns.

Like many other eVTOL startups, Archer Aviation’s website includes a sleek-but-mysterious computer-generated aircraft design, detailed performance targets, and a “master plan” to take over the electric aviation future.

But a few elements of Archer’s unveiling set it apart from many of the 250+ other startups eager to join the UAM race. The aircraft’s performance targets — 60 miles range, 150 mph cruise speed — are calculated realistically and transparently, incorporating energy reserve requirements, inaccessible elements of battery storage as well as capacity fade.

Archer Aviation’s vision also sets a high bar for safety that meets the VTOL special condition released by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA): “Our goal is to make our electric aircraft just as safe as commercial airliners.”

The company also does not have a public timeline for first flight, certification, or commercial operation. Co-founders Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock — who previously built and sold software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for over $100 million — view their company as a “generational business,” pointedly using the word ‘decade’ during an interview with Avionics International.

“As entrepreneurs, this is a ‘hard-world problem’: high capital costs, advanced hardware technologies, very long time-frame…overall, a very challenging business with low chances of success,” said Adcock, describing his view on UAM as a former software entrepreneur. “We’re in the early days here at Archer, and we’re hoping to build an important business for the next 20 years.”

Right out of the gate, Archer also has access to enough capital to certify an aircraft. Their primary backer is Mark Lore, a serial entrepreneur who built and sold e-commerce startup Jet.com to Walmart in 2014 for $3.3 billion, and is now the retail giant’s e-commerce chief.

Adcock referred to Lore as someone who has experience “raising close to a billion dollars in capital” and “going up against giants” — qualities they believe will be handy in this endeavor. Mark Moore, Uber’s aviation director of engineering, has stated that certifying an eVTOL aircraft is likely to cost between $700 million and $1 billion.

Archer hasn’t yet made a decision with respect to joining or competing with Uber’s Elevate ecosystem, which includes industry leading startups like Joby Aviation as well as Hyundai Motors, the leading automobile incumbent in UAM.

“I think it’s too early for us at this stage, in terms of joining a platform, but I don’t see anything that would preclude us from one day joining the Uber platform,” said Goldstein. “We’re very supportive of all the work that they’re doing and are super thankful of all the work that they are doing.”

Goldstein and Adcock’s approach to aircraft design and the UAM market does mirror Uber’s public views quite closely. Their aircraft is a winged tiltrotor design with twelve propellers and a V-shaped tail, inspired by Uber’s vision of balancing higher performance with low criticality as well as the requirements of certification and eventual mass manufacturing. The design will have a lift/drag ratio of 11, according to Archer’s website, and 143 kWh of usable energy, with batteries making up roughly one-third of the aircraft’s 7,000-lb target weight.

Archer has assembled a team of 44 engineers with positions open on their website for at least 21 more. Much of the company’s talent has been coaxed from other major eVTOL players, including Joby, the Airbus’ Vahana team, Wisk, and Kitty Hawk. Geoff Bower, chief engineer for the Vahana program, holds the same title at Archer. Tom Muniz, previously VP of engineering at Wisk, also joined the company at the same position.

Adcock and Goldstein confirmed previous reporting that many of their engineers are compensated above what may be considered “market rates” for eVTOL talent, stating that they have sought to assemble the best team possible in an emerging field where experienced talent is hard to come by — and are often competing for talent with companies outside the eVTOL field, like Blue Origin and Tesla, that offer higher compensation.

“Who would be the number one person in aeroacoustics, who’s done the best work so far in eVTOL — where would that person come from? It’s probably Joby. Joby has done an incredible job on noise,” said Goldstein. “So we went after Ben Goldman, who ran aeroacoustics.”

“We’ve surrounded ourselves with some of the best eVTOL leaders in the world,” Adcock told Avionics. “Our whole sub-system team has come from either Airbus Vahana, Wisk, or Joby. It’s an incredible amount of talent.”

Currently, Archer is a bit behind competitors like Joby and Wisk, with its current focus on sub-scale testing and designing an 80-percent scale prototype that is slated to fly sometime next year. But using language like “decades” and releasing no public timeline for certification or commercial operation, Archer clearly isn’t interested in being first to market.

Adcock sees the development of UAM in two phases, beginning with initial commercial use of piloted eVTOLs and existing helipad infrastructure that only make commercial sense for certain routes, at perhaps $3-6 per passenger mile, around half the cost of current helicopters. In Phase 2, scaled manufacturing, autonomy, and purpose-built infrastructure enable higher utilization rates, lower costs and greater safety at scale.

Archer Aviation’s goal is to be a leading player in Phase 2 and beyond — “tackling this hard problem for 20, 30, 40 years to come,” as Adcock told Avionics. And with top talent, access to capital with a long view on returns and a realistic initial portrayal of their aircraft’s capabilities, they might just have a shot at it.

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FAA Certifies Garmin Autoland for Piper M600/SLS Aircraft

May 22nd, 2020   •   Comments Off on FAA Certifies Garmin Autoland for Piper M600/SLS Aircraft   
FAA Certifies Garmin Autoland for Piper M600/SLS Aircraft

Garmin said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has certified the company’s Autoland emergency system for the Piper M600/SLS aircraft (Photo by Garmin)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has certified the Garmin Autoland system in the company’s G3000 integrated flight deck for the Piper M600/SLS, Garmin said on May 18.

Autoland is to permit general aviation aircraft to make autonomous touch downs in emergencies. In addition to the Piper M600/SLS, the system is soon to be available on Cirrus Vision Jet and Daher TBM 940 aircraft, and Garmin said that it expects certifications of Autoland for more aircraft.

For its part, Piper Aircraft said on May 18 that the FAA has certified its HALO Safety System, which includes a number of safety technologies for the G3000 avionics suite, including Autoland, Autothrottle, Emergency Descent Mode (EDM), Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP), surface watch, SafeTaxi, and Flight Stream connectivity. Piper pointed to Autoland as the most important of the safety technologies in the HALO Safety System.

In an emergency, the pilot or passengers may activate Autoland by pressing a dedicated button, and the system is also able to activate automatically, if the system determines it’s necessary, according to Garmin.

A pilot can deactivate Autoland by pressing the “AP” autopilot key on the autopilot controller or the autopilot disconnect button on the controls, and, in the event of an accidental deactivation, the system shows passengers how to reactivate Autoland if needed.

Phil Straub, Garmin executive vice president and managing director of aviation, called Autoland “one of the industry’s most forward-thinking technologies that will forever enhance aviation safety and save lives.”

The Autoland system controls and lands the aircraft by determining the optimal airport and runway – one that has a Global Positioning System approach with lateral and vertical guidance – and taking into account factors such as weather, terrain, obstacles and aircraft performance statistics. The Garmin Autothrottle system is automatically used “to manage aircraft speed, engine performance and engine power so the aircraft can climb, descend or maintain altitude as needed during an Autoland activation,” Garmin said.

Piper’s M600 is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A engine with a 1,658 nm range. Photo: Piper

Autoland is able to analyze factors, such as weather, fuel, runway surface and length, the availability of a GPS approach with lateral and vertical guidance to the runway, terrain, and obstacles, when determining the best airport for landing, according to Garmin.

The system is also able to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC) and pilots operating near the aircraft about its location and intentions.

“Throughout an Autoland activation, the G3000 integrated flight deck provides passenger-centric visual and verbal communications in plain-language so passengers in the aircraft know what to expect,” Garmin said. “The flight displays show the aircraft’s location on a map alongside information such as the destination airport, estimated time of arrival, distance to the destination airport and fuel remaining. Airspeed, altitude and aircraft heading are also labeled in an easy-to-understand format. Passengers also have the option to communicate with ATC by following simple instructions on the display using the touchscreen interface on the flight deck.”

Autoland is one of three technologies in Garmin’s “Autonomí” family for integrated flight decks. The other two Autonomí technologies are EDM for automatically descending the aircraft to a preset altitude without pilot intervention and ESP, which is to aid pilots in avoiding unintentional flight attitudes or bank angles beyond those for normal flight. If a pilot inadvertently exceeds pre-determined pitch, roll or airspeed limitations for an aircraft, ESP activates, and the flight controls guide the aircraft back to a recommended flight limit.

According to Piper, FAA officials completed the certification flight with their team at Garden City Airport in Garden City, Kansas on May 5. Piper is to begin deliveries of new production Piper M600/SLS aircraft featuring Autoland immediately.


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Thales to Supply ADS-B Upgrades for China’s Largest Air Cargo Airline

May 20th, 2020   •   Comments Off on Thales to Supply ADS-B Upgrades for China’s Largest Air Cargo Airline   
Thales to Supply ADS-B Upgrades for China’s Largest Air Cargo Airline

SF Airlines, the largest air cargo operator in China, is retrofitting its all-Boeing fleet, including the 747 freighter pictured here, with ADS-B avionics supplied by Thales. Photo: SF Airlines

SF Airlines is retrofitting its all-Boeing fleet with replacement traffic collision avoidance system directional antennas and air traffic control transponders supplied by Thales to become Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) compliant.

Avionics for the upgrade are being provided by Thales and its joint venture with L3Harris, ACSS. SF Airlines, established in 2009, operates a fleet that includes Boeing 737, 747, 757 and 767s in air freighter configurations, and became the largest air cargo operator in China in September 2019 after steadily adding air freighter aircraft to its fleet through aftermarket purchases, according to its website.

ADS-B Out requirements vary within Chinese airspace regionally. Hong Kong, as an example, requires ADS-B for all operations at or above 29,000 feet on airways L642 and M771, according to Universal Weather & Aviation Inc, which also notes the requirement elsewhere in the flight information region, including the “Urumqi CTA. ZWWWAR02, ZWWWAR03, ZWWWAR05 and ZWWWAR06.”

Thales, in confirming the SF Airlines upgrade, notes that the CAAC is requiring all of China’s in-service commercial aircraft to implement ADS-B Out version 2 functions by Jan. 1, 2023. Version 2 refers to the requirement for DO-260B compliant transponder, which adds information within the message broadcasted that gives controllers a means to provide better service extremely dense areas of airspace.

It is also the accepted transponder version in the U.S., where ADS-B became mandated in most areas in January, and Europe, where the European Commission recently delayed its ADS-B mandate until December 2020 with new provisions.

Upgrades to the SF Airlines fleet will include installations unique to the configuration of each individual aircraft type. The transponder being supplied for the upgrade is the NXT family of transponders, 5,000 of which are currently in service, according to Thales

The SF Airlines fleet upgrade is the latest ADS-B related activity by Thales for the onboard side of the technology in China. The company first started supporting the CAAC’s analysis of the use of air traffic situational awareness (ATSA) enhanced visual separation on approach (VSA) ADS-B In application at Shanghai’s Hongquiao International Airport in December 2017. Thales has also deployed 43 radars, 20 ATC automation systems more than 677 navaids, as well as one set of ADS-B and two multilateration systems in the country.

“We are very honored to partner with SF Airlines and provide this avionics retrofit to the largest aircraft cargo fleet in China,” Jerome Bendell, CEO of Thales in China said in a May 19 press release.

SF Airlines plans to complete the entire fleet upgrade by the end of 2022.

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New Report Finds Removing Turkey From F-35 Program Risks Pushing Test Schedule Right

May 20th, 2020   •   Comments Off on New Report Finds Removing Turkey From F-35 Program Risks Pushing Test Schedule Right   
New Report Finds Removing Turkey From F-35 Program Risks Pushing Test Schedule Right

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued four recommendations meant to help boost supply chain issues as the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and prime contractor Lockheed Martin aim for a full-rate production decision by early 2021. Photo: Lockheed Martin

A new government watchdog report warns that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is once again at risk of missing its test schedule, amid the ongoing removal of former program partner Turkey and in failing to meet key manufacturing processes.

The Government Accountability Office issued four recommendations for the Defense Department and one recommendation for lawmakers in a May 12 report titled “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Actions Needed to Address Manufacturing and Modernization Risks.” These recommendations are meant to help boost supply chain issues as the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and prime contractor Lockheed Martin aim for a full-rate production decision by early 2021. The Pentagon had originally hoped to declare Milestone C for the program by the end of 2019, but announced last October that the decision would be delayed, potentially for up to 13 months.

The report stated that over 10,000 F-35 components were delivered behind schedule in July 2019, up from less than 2,000 late deliveries in August 2017. Between July 2018 and July 2019, the number of reports of parts shortages per month rose from 875 to over 8,000, with over 60 percent concentrated among only 20 suppliers. But efforts to mitigate the effects of those parts shortages and delays, such as changing up the assembly line and moving parts to different stations, cause increased labor hours, the report added.

Lockheed Martin has implemented new practices that would help improve efficiency, but more must be done, GAO said. Only about 3,000 of the over 10,000 manufacturing key processes meet “predefined design standards for ensuring product quality,” and over 500 already fielded aircraft do not meet reliability and maintainability goals.

“Unless the program office evaluates the risks of not meeting these leading practices, the military services and international partners are at risk of not receiving the quality aircraft they purchased,” the report said.

An infographic from the latest GAO report gives an overview of the core F-35 design elements. Photo: GAO

The reports of parts shortages and delivery delays in July 2019 line up with the Pentagon’s decision to suspend Turkey from the F-35 program. The department has had to find new sources for over 1,000 parts that were originally produced by Turkish suppliers, as it pulled Ankara from the program following the country’s procurement of the Russian-made S-400 air-to-air defense system. Pentagon officials, several NATO partners and many U.S lawmakers critiqued Turkey’s move, stating that the F-35 is incompatible with the S-400 system.

The F-35 program has identified new sources for 1,005 parts, but is “assessing the effect of 15 key parts not currently being produced at the needed production rate,” the report said. About 10 percent of those new sources will be working with the F-35 program for the first time, and are unlikely to produce parts at the rate required in the first year, it continued.

The acquisition cost of the F-35 program also increased substantially in 2019, with development costs related to new “Block 4” hardware and software systems increasing by over $1.5 billion, the report said.

“However, the cost estimate did not fully adhere to leading practices, such as including all life cycle costs,” the GAO said. “In addition, while development will continue through 2026, reports on Block 4 that the program submits to Congress are slated to end in 2023. Without continued Block 4 reporting through the development phase, Congress will lack important oversight information.”

GAO recommended that Congress revise a section of the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill, and extend the Pentagon’s Block 4 reporting requirement beyond 2023, until all the Block 4 capabilities are fielded. For the Defense Department, the watchdog agency urged a new evaluation of risks to the supply chain and production that are not being met, and that it be submitted to lawmakers ahead of the Milestone C decision.

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment should direct the F-35 JPO to establish a Block 4 cost estimate baseline, complete a program office level, product-oriented breakdown of the next update to its Block 4 cost estimate, conduct new risk and uncertainty analyses related to the next Block 4 cost estimate and include cost and schedule risks of future Block 4 technologies in that updated cost estimate.

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Flexible Neural Networks Needed for FCAS, Airbus Official Says

May 20th, 2020   •   Comments Off on Flexible Neural Networks Needed for FCAS, Airbus Official Says   
Flexible Neural Networks Needed for FCAS, Airbus Official Says

Airbus and Bonn, Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE have created an independent panel of experts on the responsible use of new technologies to define and propose ethical as well as international legal “guard rails” for Europe’s largest defense project, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Photo: Airbus

Flexible, neural networks will be a feature of the Airbus-Dassault Aviation Future Combat Air System (FCAS), an Airbus official said last week.

On May 14, Airbus and the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE held a virtual working group meeting, featuring members of an independent panel of experts, on the responsible use of new technologies in the design of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), Europe’s largest defense project.

Established last year, the panel includes members from Airbus, the German Ministry of Defense, German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foundations, universities, and think tanks. The panel is to aid in the development of guidelines for the ethical use of artificial intelligence and autonomy in the FCAS program, which is to feature a sixth-generation manned fighter and  unmanned, “remote carrier” platforms controlled by the pilot of the manned fighter. Such requirements are to ensure meaningful, human control of FCAS functions.

Enabling the manned and unmanned teaming of FCAS will be an “Air Combat Cloud,” which is to integrate sensor data. Civil functions are also to benefit from FCAS down the line. FCAS, which thus far involves France, Germany, and Spain, is to replace Dassault’s Rafale fighter and the Airbus/BAE Systems/Leonardo-built Eurofighter.

“I have clear requirements on the table, how to design such kind of a product [FCAS] to fly safely in airspace, but I have very limited requirements which are driven by our ethical compliance,” Thomas Grohs, chief architect of FCAS at Airbus Defence and Space, said during the May 14 virtual meeting. “I’m really looking forward to have such kind of a requirements listing established together with my colleagues and this forum and others participating–a requirements list that allows me to design the system to be compliant with such kind of requirements.”

Such requirements will set up a framework for such FCAS features, as neural networks and human control of FCAS functions–a so-called human “circuit breaker” to head off potentially fatal machine errors.

“I have to make the system flexible from a neural network point of design because I need to train such neural networks on their specific behavior,” Grohs said during last week’s May 14 virtual working group meeting. “However, this behavior may differ from the different users that may use the equipment from their ethical understanding. This is for me then driving a design requirement that I have to make the system modular with respect to neural network implementation, that those are loadable, pending one that uses this from his different ethical understanding. Such are the things I need to look at and to see can we find proper solution to make this happen.”

ANSYS and Airbus Defense and Space told Avionics International last June that the companies are developing an AI design tool to create the embedded flight control software for FCAS. Airbus has said that it is also creating a new version of the ANSYS SCADE aerospace systems simulation software configuration. The upgraded version of the tool will use artificial intelligence algorithms as a replacement for traditional model-based systems development in order to facilitate FCAS manned-unmanned teaming and the safe flight of FCAS “remote carriers.” An ANYS official said that most of the academic and industry research behind the use of AI for software development involves the use of convolutional neural network (CNN) input and output layers.

The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is to fuse information from a variety of space and airborne sensors. Pictured here, is a concept of operations for FCAS as depicted by Airbus.

In terms of human, “circuit breakers” for FCAS, “not everything I could realize from a technical perspective to be fully automated…should be automated,” Grohs said. “I should have decisive break points in there that could be activated from an ethical perspective of the human ‘in the loop’ or, at least, ‘on the loop’ to be able to take proper decisions from an ethical perspective. Those requirements need to be laid out and be plotted against each of the functional chains for the potential users that later on will use the product.”

Ulrike Franke, a member of the FCAS experts panel and a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that thus far there have been “pronounced divergences” in European views on the employment of military AI and autonomous weapons systems. Franke said that “France appears to be more open” to such use, while Germany is “more cautious” and that one challenge for FCAS will be “how to reconcile these differences.” Possible resolutions include the establishment of “red lines” for machine decision making or providing measures for how much autonomy FCAS sub-systems can have.

For its part, Germany wants to retain human decision making in FCAS targeting. German Air Force Brig. Gen. Gerald Funke, the FCAS project leader for the German Ministry of Defense, has written that Germany “will not accept any technical concept that would give any system the possibility to authorize the death of another person solely on the basis of the logic of an algorithm.”

“Human beings will remain the sole determinants, responsible for decisions and all their consequences!” Funke wrote.

During the May 14 virtual working group meeting, Funke said that it is still too early in the FCAS concept phase to know whether the FCAS manned fighter will be a one-seat or two-seat design to guarantee sufficient human control and that such a decision will become clearer “when we know what are the roles of the human in the vehicle.”

“So far, I would guess it’s more one-seater than a two seater, but we leave it open,” Funke said. “We have not decided it yet, apart from my side.”

Rüdiger Bohn, the deputy federal government commissioner for disarmament and arms control at the German Foreign Ministry, said that the Airbus/Fraunhofer FKIE initiative “is an excellent opportunity for Europe to influence the global policy debate on international arms control solutions by developing industry standards, for instance on the military use of AI and on how human control can be programmed into the design of new weapons systems.”


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PODCAST: How Quest Diagnostics Flights Transport COVID-19 Specimens

May 16th, 2020   •   Comments Off on PODCAST: How Quest Diagnostics Flights Transport COVID-19 Specimens   
PODCAST: How Quest Diagnostics Flights Transport COVID-19 Specimens

Scott Borton is the director of air logistics for Quest Diagnostics.

On this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, we caught up with Scott Borton, director of national air logistics for Quest Diagnostics, one of the leading medical lab services companies in the United States.

In addition to the medical labs and patient locations managed by the company, Quest Diagnostics also operates a fleet of 25 total aircraft, including the Pilatus PC-12, Beech B58 Baron and Embraer Phenom 100. Right now, these aircraft are flying about 88 flights a day to 63 different locations across the U.S., transporting some very precious cargo, including COVID-19 specimens and samples.

Their goal is to deliver collected samples to the company’s labs by 2 AM, so that diagnostics can be complete and results are ready by 8 AM the next morning.

We also asked Scott about the logistics of supporting a 20-minute turnaround time for aircraft that make multiple stops throughout the day, and whether or not his aircraft feature any type of in-flight connectivity.

Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at wbellamy@accessintel.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.

Listen to this episode below, or check it out on iTunes or Google Play If you like the show, subscribe on your favorite podcast app to get new episodes as soon as they’re released.

The post PODCAST: How Quest Diagnostics Flights Transport COVID-19 Specimens appeared first on Avionics.

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U.S. Navy Flight Testing Leonardo Radar for Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout

May 16th, 2020   •   Comments Off on U.S. Navy Flight Testing Leonardo Radar for Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout   
U.S. Navy Flight Testing Leonardo Radar for Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout

The U.S. Navy is flight testing the Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 radar on the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout drone. Photo: Northrop Grumman

The United States Navy has completed calibration testing of the Leonardo Osprey 30 AN/ZPY-8 radar for the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout drone and is to finish flight testing of the radar by December, as the Fire Scout moves toward planned deployment next year.

The Navy began calibration flight testing of the radar on Feb. 27 at Patuxent River, Md. after several weeks of ground testing. The Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) AN/ZPY-8 radar uses Minotaur Mission Processor software developed by the Navy and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The software, which began development in 2006 and is deployed on a number of platforms, including Customs and Border Protection Super King Air 350ERs by Textron Aviation, Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft by Boeing, and Coast Guard HC-130Js, allows the integration of multiple sensors and the cross-platform sharing of data.

The Navy ran 16 calibration flight tests of the radar’s Minotaur software between Feb. 27 and Apr. 16, Navy Capt. Eric Soderberg,  the Navy program manager for multi-mission tactical unmanned aerial systems (PMA-266), wrote in an email to Avionics International.

“The dedicated test period for Minotaur calibration is complete, but the test team and suppliers will continue to analyze data collected during the remaining test events to continue to fine tune calibration of the Minotaur software, as needed,” Soderberg wrote. Electromagnetic Environmental Effects (E3) testing is currently underway and will continue into early June.  Under a Capabilities Based Test and Evaluation (CBT&E) approach, radar performance testing is planned from June – December 2020 with the calibrated software.”

Northrop Grumman said that it has delivered 32 of 38 planned Fire Scouts to the Navy and that all will receive retrofits of the AN/ZPY-8 radar, which the company said expands Fire Scout’s range to meet future requirements and significantly increases Fire Scout’s detection and tracking of targets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not delayed the flight testing of the AN/ZPY-8 radar, according to Soderberg.

“The test team implemented a work around to increase the rate of digital data exchange between the government and suppliers when the suppliers were unable to support flight test on site,” Soderberg wrote in his email.  “This change in approach slowed test data analysis but the team has been able to maintain the schedule for engineering software build delivery in support of the test program.”

One of Leonardo’s Osprey 30 radars. Photo: Leonardo

An AESA radar for a small Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform, like the MQ-8C Fire Scout, is unusual, Euan Walker, the head of radar capability at Leonardo, told Avionics in a telephone interview. Leonardo said that it was the lead company in adapting AESA radar, normally for use by high performance fighter and strike aircraft, for ISR platforms.

“The key thing with an AESA radar is that instead of having one single transmitter and one single receiver, you have hundreds of individual transmitters and receiving elements,” he said. “That gives you great flexibility in terms of how you coordinate all those transmitters and receivers. That flexibility, most significantly, means you can move the radar beam around the sky almost instantaneously. That gives you far greater operational flexibility in doing multiple tasks very efficiently. It also allows you to change the characteristics of what you transmit on a pulse by pulse basis.”

Wayne Smith, Leonardo’s head of radar campaigns, said that the Navy wanted a conformal antenna array radar for the MQ-8C that did not create significant drag, as an underbelly radome for a mechanically steered radar would incur.

The Osprey 30 radar has 12 military and paramilitary customers, including its fielding on the Norwegian All Weather Search and Rescue AW101 helicopter by Leonardo.

Leonardo said that the AN/ZPY-8 is significantly more reliable than mechanically steered radars and that it is 5 to 10 times less in procurement cost.

“There has been a significant level of DoD interest in the Osprey family [of radars],” Walker said.





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