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Air Force Completes First Military Transport of eVTOL Aircraft Inside C-130

A LIFT Aircraft electronic vertical takeoff and landing aircraft sits on a trailer at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Texas, March 24, 2021. The eVTOL was transported from Ohio to Texas by the 79th Rescue Squadron as part of an ongoing relationship between industry partners and Air Force units that are working together to develop emerging technologies in support of tomorrow’s fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jacob T. Stephens)

The U.S. Air Force transported an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft from Springfield, Ohio to Austin, Texas on March 23 and 24 inside an HC-130J Combat King II as a proof of concept to integrate eVTOLs into combat capabilities, according to the 355th Wing.

The eVTOL used was LIFT Aircraft’s Hexa which performed its first demonstration flight for the Air Force in August 2020.

“This is the first milestone in developmental operations of eVTOL in rescue and attack, which highlights how the wing continues to actively engage on the front end of these efforts to continue building our readiness for tomorrow’s fight,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Brendan Gallagher, 563rd Rescue Group chief of weapons and tactics, said in a statement. “By doing this, we are furthering the rescue and attack capabilities as we look toward the future, because these are the next generation of flying platforms.”

Airmen offload a LIFT Aircraft electronic vertical takeoff and landing aircraft from an HC-130J Combat King II at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Texas, March 24, 2021. This transportation test provided 79th Rescue Squadron Airmen a better understanding of how eVTOL vehicles can potentially integrate into military capabilities in the future. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jacob T. Stephens)

The 355th Wing, 621st Contingency Response Wing, and other units are looking to use these aircraft in personnel recovery, initial airfield assessment missions, and resupply missions, according to the Air Force.

“We’re exploring a number of ways eVTOL technology could be employed in recovery and resupply scenarios,” Davis-Monthan Air Force Base spokesperson told Avionics International. “For example, let’s says a service member is stranded outside of a secure area. In this situation, an eVTOL vehicle could be sent to their location to pick them up without the need of putting additional forces at risk. An eVTOL vehicle could also be used to deliver critical supplies or equipment, like water, communication equipment, weaponry or ammunition, if personnel recovery isn’t needed at the time. Integration into Exercise Bushwhacker, our agile combat employment exercise, this summer will be the first time we’re putting concepts like this to the test.”

This exercise marks the first time an eVTOL was transported with a military aircraft and proves that the Air Force can transport these vehicles with minimal equipment. Loading the eVTOL onto the C-130 took around 40 minutes, however, they believe this process can be shortened to 15 minutes.  The 355th Wing, 621st Contingency Response Wing, and AFWERX Agility Prime all participated in the exercise.

Airmen offload a LIFT Aircraft electronic vertical takeoff and landing aircraft from an HC-130J Combat King II at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Texas, March 24, 2021. This transportation test provided 79th Rescue Squadron Airmen a better understanding of how eVTOL vehicles can potentially integrate into military capabilities in the future. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jacob T. Stephens)

“With it being new, unfamiliar equipment, we had to come with a lot of variants and contingencies,” U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Wruck, 571st MSAS air transportation team sergeant, said in a statement. “Alongside the 79th RQS, AFWERX and LIFT, we came up with a simple, safe and expedited way to load the aircraft with minimal specialized equipment by using the ramp system. The load took roughly 40 minutes, but we can get that down to 15 minutes in the future.”

Now that they have proven they can transport eVTOLs they will continue testing in training environments. AFWERX eVTOL vehicles will be integrated into more testing exercises during Bushwhacker, the 355th Wing’s ongoing series of agile combat exercises, in the summer, according to the 355th Wing.

“This load exercise came on the heels of major flight testing in Springfield, and we have more testing coming up in Austin and the Bushwhacker exercise [the 355th Wing’s agile combat employment exercise] in May,” James Bieryla, AFWERX Prime division chief, said in a statement.

LIFT Aircraft’s Hexa uses 18 electric motors and propellers to fly and only weighs 432 pounds due in part to its carbon-fiber airframe, according to LIFT’s website. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has classified Hexa as ultralight, so it does not require a pilot’s license to fly the aircraft which uses a single three-axis joystick to navigate.

According to the company, the autopilot computer is triple redundant. Hexa also has water landing capabilities.

AFWERX Agility Prime has been working with industry to develop eVTOL technology for military and commercial use. While Hexa was used in this demonstration, there are many other companies like Joby Aviation, Elroy Air, and Beta Technologies working with the Air Force on this project. In December 2020 Joby Aviation became the first eVTOL company to gain military airworthiness approval from Agility Prime.

“Our goal within Prime is to find emerging technology with dual capabilities and transition to deploy them rapidly after working with many mission partners to meet the needs of our operators and warfighters,” Bieryla said. “This movement with LIFT exemplifies how we aren’t content to sit around and wait on anything. We are getting after the Chief of Staff’s call to ‘Accelerate Change or Lose’.”

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Wisk Moves Forward with Transport Trial in New Zealand; Adds Insitu Integration

Wisk, a joint venture of Kitty Hawk and Boeing, signed an MoU with the government of New Zealand to begin passenger transport trials using its autonomous ‘Cora’ air taxi, once it is certified. (Wisk)

Wisk, the company developing the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft Cora, is moving forward with its “Transport Trial” to advance autonomous flight in New Zealand, according to a March 29 press release. Wisk will also be integrating Insitu Pacific Pty Ltd., an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) developer and Boeing subsidiary, into the program.

“New Zealand presents a unique opportunity and we are immensely proud to have been recognized by the New Zealand Government as the first airspace integration industry partner,” Anna Kominik, Asia Pacific Region Director for Wisk, said in a statement. “New Zealand’s focus on decarbonizing its economy as part of the electric transport evolution directly aligns with Wisk’s mission to deliver safe, everyday flight for everyone through effective, accessible and sustainable urban air mobility solutions.”

The Transport Trial is part of the New Zealand government’s Airspace Integration Trial Program (AITP) to test and demonstrate the integration of unmanned aircraft into airspace. Wisk will be performing flight testing, simulation work, and data analysis alongside multiple government agencies and New Zealand’s Airways Corporation, a representative from the company told Avionics International.

“Wisk has always seen the distinct advantages of New Zealand, including the country’s globally respected Civil Aviation Authority and flexibility for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS),” Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk, said in a statement. “These factors, combined with the advantages of testing and operating in a relatively un-congested airspace and the innovative culture of early adoption, makes New Zealand uniquely positioned as a leader for autonomous UAM integration trials.”

The first phase of the Transport Trial will focus on collecting and understanding data to support integrating these aircraft into the airspace system, according to the representative.

“The aim of the Transport Trial, which is part of the New Zealand government’s, broader Airspace Integration Trial Program (AITP), is to safely evaluate, test, and demonstrate the integration of unmanned aircraft into existing airspace,” the Wisk representative said. “The goal is to provide robust data that can be used by Governments, ANSP, and Civil Aviation Authorities to advance standards globally.”

Integrating Insitu into the Transport Trial will allow Wisk to use Boeing’s expertise and advanced technology to the project, according to the release. Wisk was born out of a partnership between Boeing and Kitty Hawk in 2019.

Cora, the eVTOL being developed by Wisk, is a two-passenger all-electric self-piloted aircraft. It has an experimental airworthiness certificate from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to their website.

Cora has gone through many transformations over the years and has announced five different versions of the aircraft with a sixth coming soon. Wisk declined to specify which aircraft would be used in these tests but stressed that the Transport Trial is platform agnostic.

“We are not providing details on the specifics around this yet,” the representative said. “However, it is important to stress that the Transport Trial is platform agnostic as its goal is to advance autonomous passenger transport in New Zealand – and other jurisdictions – as well as inform/support other trials in the AITP, focused around cargo delivery, agricultural services, and hazard management and monitoring services. This is part of our recognition that the operating ecosystem is as important as a certified aircraft.”

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Fuel Cell Technology for Larger Aircraft Could Lower Emissions

Liquid-cooled proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) could be ideal for use in larger electrically powered aircraft like eVTOLs. (NASA)

The aerospace industry has proven it can utilize fuel cells for small aircraft. Now, industry experts want to integrate fuel cell technology into larger aircraft and think they can create lower emissions operations while doing so, industry experts said during a March 24 webinar.

“The approach to integrating a fuel cell into aerospace systems is well established and has been proven out,” Jim Sisco, principal systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace, said. “There’s a strong utility has been established for the small applications, and as we’ve seen, there’s a range of products available and the flight time improvements have been demonstrated pretty clearly. So, we get to these larger aircraft, where there’s a lot of promise as well for low emission operations, we really need to focus on getting the power-weight ratio of the fuel cell plan out to meet these applications.”

An example of a PEMFC system in a small unmanned aircraft. (A slide from Sisco’s presentation)

The benefits of fuel cell technology over internal combustion include improvements in reliability and operational benefits like lowering the acoustic signature and improving throttle control, Sisco said. These benefits have resulted in the expansion of proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC).

“As the kind of the familiarity with fuel cells increase, as well as really a lot of its being driven by future regulations and greenhouse gas emissions, there’s a lot of interest now in proton exchange membrane fuel cell applications to larger aircraft, such as Skydweller, urban air mobility applications, air transport applications, package delivery,” Sisco said. “Those are larger aircraft with higher power requirements which leads to unique requirements on the fuel cell system and new challenges.”

Sisco said there are two types of PEMFC: air-cooled and liquid-cooled. Air-cooled PEMFCs use a single air mover for power and thermal management. They have a simpler balance of plant and are lighter but they derate under adverse environmental conditions, have a shorter stack service life and have limited integration flexibility.

Liquid-cooled PEMCFs have a dedicated air mover for power and liquid coolant loop for stack thermal management. They limit derating under adverse environmental conditions, longer stack service life, and flexible integration, but require additional balance of plant components and operational complexity and are heavier.

The layout of a PEMFC liquid-cooled system. (Slide from presentation)

While there are many current applications for using PEMFC in smaller aircraft, larger aircraft are going to require a low more power than the current technologies used. Sisco said because of this, these PEMFCs will have to be liquid-cooled.

“Once you get to this kind of power output level the liquid-cooled fuel cells have much better metrics when you get to these high powers,” Sisco said. “It’s difficult to scale air-cooled in a volume and mass efficient way once you get to these high powers.”

Sisco said to develop a PEMFC for larger aircraft there needs to be a targeted design.

“What we think is needed to get there is really a targeted design for aerial applications,” Sisco said. “These higher power applications are really focused on cost. Life is also a big driver. It’s not to say either of those things aren’t important for aerospace applications, but maybe not quite as severe as the weight. It’s a huge driver for making these things viable.”

At Honeywell, they have been looking at aerospace materials and methods of construction to final a solution for PEMFC in larger aircraft. They are also looking at running at higher air pressure to create a higher compression ratio on the cathode air blower, Sisco said.

“What’s really needed there is a lightweight, high-pressure ratio air compressor and Honeywell has quite a bit of expertise in that area,” Sisco said. “Related to that is higher stack temperature. Higher stack temperature means more delta between the stack and the ambient environment, that tends to reduce cooling requirements heat exchanger size. And really, the higher cathode pressure helps to enable that, but in conjunction with that, there’s the membrane electrode assembly which is the core technology in the fuel cell stack. Those need to be tailored for this high-temperature environment. And again there’s technology that already exists for motive applications and we need to pull that into these aerospace fuel cell systems.”

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SESAR Trial Validates Virtual Air Traffic Management of Flights in Three European Countries

A trial conducted under the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) 2020 project PJ.10-W2 PROSA, used controller working position screens at the three different European locations with real time simulation. (SESAR)

Air traffic controllers in Germany, Poland, and the U.K. recently validated the feasibility of the use of a virtual center to manage flights in the cross-border style that many Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) in the region see as the key to streamlining the current segmented structure present in Europe.

Validation of the concept was completed under the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) 2020 project PJ.10-W2 PROSA, one of the largest research initiatives included in their 2020 industrial research program. According to a March 5 press release announcing the completion of the trial, Physical centers were located in Langen (Germany), Southampton (U.K.), and Warsaw (Poland), with two test cases.

The first case trialed the transfer of consolidated traffic from one control center to another at night; the second simulated the transfer of air traffic control services to another center in a failure scenario, according to the ANSPs involved in the project.

Representatives from DFS, ENAV, Frequentis, Indra, NATS and Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) provided joint responses to questions from Avionics International about the near term feasibility of the concept, confirming that the trial did not use real flights, but rather a simulation that featured recorded radar and flight plan data. This data was fed into the prototype digital ATM infrastructure they developed using a real-time simulator and technologies submitted by some of the individual service providers.

“Until such a concept may finally be used between one country’s service units or even among European ANSPs, it will still be a long path. Such operations are not just a question of the sovereignty of the different States, which until now are responsible for their own airspaces, and thus legal considerations, but also a question of the licensing of air traffic controllers,” a representative for the group said in an emailed statement.

During the trial, PANSA controllers in Warsaw controlled, grouped, or consolidated sectors and delegated them to controllers from NATS in Southampton, who were able to delegate on to DFS in Langen.

The Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) signed an agreement with Indra, to implement the iTEC system in the new Control Center in Poznan. Indra also used the iTEC system in the SESAR PROSA virtual center trial.

Europe’s current air traffic system features decision-making based solely on the individual air navigation service providers in each European nation-state, where data is made available based on the decisions of the individual ANSPs and where needed, ANSPs are given very little control over adjacent airspace to the flight information region (FIR) that they’re responsible for.

Under the vision for virtual centers, the currently fragmented structure would be decoupled and transitioned to the development of a new data servicing system where individual Air Traffic Service Units (ATSUs) work in tandem with ATM Data Service Providers (ADSPs) that provide flight data processing functions like flight correlation, trajectory prediction, conflict detection and resolution, and arrival management planning.

“During the scenario for nighttime delegation, we have trialed between 30 to 50 flights. In the scenario for contingency delegation, around 100 flights were validated. The scenarios took place in a defined part of the airspace – comprising two sectors of Karlsruhe upper airspace over southern Germany, as well as in Zurich airspace,” the representative said.

Through the project, the service providers were also able to observe the technological comments of establishing a virtual center with data centers deployed in different locations. Using their iTEC ATM system, Indra provided recorded radar and flight plan data using a real-time simulator and equipped the controller working positions in the UK and Poland with the components for voice communication.

Frequentis also supplied the digital medium for distributing and sharing data across the entire setup, according to the group.

“The components included a pseudo pilot position and Ground-Ground voice communication telephony system with touch screen HMI user interface panels at the working positions. The solution was implemented by using the ED-137 Interoperability Standard – Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and converged IP networks,” the representative said. “The supplied middleware makes use of an open ATM-grade IT platform supplied by Frequentis, extended with ATS Message Handling System AMHS P3 and Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunication Network (AFTN) gateway functions.”

As the first trial executed within SESAR’s PROSA project, the validation was one of several that will be completed as part of the same research initiative. Automatic speech recognition, attention guidance, and increased flexibility in air traffic controller validations are among the other separation management tools that are being trialed.

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Lilium Reveals New 7-Seater eVTOL and Merger with Qell

The 7-Seater Jet is an updated version of Lilium’s 5-Seater aircraft and carries six passengers and one pilot. (Lilium)

Lilium revealed its latest electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, the 7-Seater Lilium Jet, as a culmination of four generations of technology demonstrators, according to a March 30 press release published by the Munich, Germany-based company. Lilium will also merge with Qell Acquisition Corp. making the eVTOL maker a publicly listed company.

“We’re incredibly excited to reveal the development of our 7-Seater Lilium Jet and announce the next stage of our growth,” Daniel Wiegand, Co-Founder and CEO of Lilium, said in a statement. “This is a validation of all the hard work over the last five years from our talented team and our world-class partners and investors.”

The 7-Seater is an updated version of Lilium’s 5-Seater aircraft and carries six passengers and one pilot. It has received CRI-A01 certification from EASA and concurrent type certification with EASA and the FAA, according to the release. It has a cruise speed of 175 mph and flies at 10,000 feet with a range of 155 miles.

The aircraft uses Lilium’s proprietary Ducted Electric Vectored Thrust (DEVT) technology which is made up of 36 electric ducted turbo fan engines integrated into the wing flaps and allows Lilium to lower noise emissions and its ground footprint. (Lilium)

The aircraft uses Lilium’s proprietary Ducted Electric Vectored Thrust (DEVT) technology which is made up of 36 electric ducted turbofan engines integrated into the wing flaps and allows Lilium to lower noise emissions and its ground footprint.

Lilium is partnering with multiple suppliers for the 7-Seater Jet including Aciturri who is manufacturing the fuselage and wing systems, Toray Industries who are supplying high-performance carbon fiber composite, and Lufthansa Aviation Training which is sourcing pilots and delivering a training program.

“Our vision is to create a sustainable and accessible mode of high-speed travel and bring this to every community,” Wiegand said. “Transport infrastructure is broken. It is costly in personal time, space consumption and carbon emissions. We are pursuing our unique electric jet technology because it is the key to higher-capacity aircraft, with lower cost per seat mile while delivering low noise and low emissions.”

The aircraft has received CRI-A01 certification from EASA and concurrent type certification with EASA and the FAA, according to the release. It has a cruise speed of 175 mph and flies at 10,000 feet with a range of 155 miles. (Lilium)

Lilium is planning to use the 7-Seater in commercial operations starting in 2024, according to the release. To meet this goal they will need to finalize serial production facilities in Germany, launch the serial production aircraft and complete the type certification with appropriate authorities. This will all be done with the funds provided in the business combination agreement with Qell.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Lilium to together build the leader in regional electric air mobility,” Barry Engle, Founder and CEO of Qell, said in a statement. “Qell set out to find an exceptional and ambitious technology company, with significant growth potential — and in Lilium we have found that. Lilium has unique technology and one of the most accomplished engineering and commercial teams in electric aviation. The 7-Seater Lilium Jet is a game-changer for transportation.”

The company is estimated to receive $830 million of gross proceeds from a fully committed common stock PIPE offering of $450 million and $380 million cash held in trust, according to the release. The merger is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2021.

In November 2020, Lilium announced a partnership with Tavistock Development Company and the City of Orlando to launch an electric air mobility network in 2025. They are planning to have a network of up to 14 sites with about 125 jets.

Lilium will also operate in Germany through agreements with Köln Bonn Airport and Düsseldorf Airport using approximately 190 jets.

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What’s Trending in Aerospace – March 28, 2021

Check out the March 28 edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the latest headlines and updates happening across the global aerospace industry.



AMETEK Signs $1.35 Billion Deal to Acquire Abaco Systems 

Abaco Systems, a provider of mission-critical embedded computing systems, has been acquired by AMETEK in a deal valued at $1.35 billion. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to acquire Abaco Systems,” David A. Zapico, AMETEK Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said in a March 25 press release. “Their market leading embedded computing solutions are ideally positioned across a number of attractive aerospace and defense platforms, further broadening our differentiated product offering serving these markets.” 

The deal will close in mid-2021 with Abaco joining AMETEK’s Electronic Instruments Group (EIG), according to the release. 







Finnair Signs Letter of Interest for Heart Aerospace ES-19 Electric Aircraft

Finnair signed a letter of interest for the Heart Aerospace ES-19 electric aircraft, currently under development in Stockholm, Sweden.

Finnair could acquire up to 20 of the new 19-seater Heart Aerospace ES-19 electric aircraft, for use on the airline’s short routes, the airline said in a March 25 press release. According to Heart Aerospace, the aircraft are expected to be available for first commercial flights in 2026.

“Finnair believes electric aviation will be one of the tools for the future of flying. It will help to promote responsible and sustainable aviation especially on short routes, in an era where climate change will increasingly dominate the agenda,” Anne Larilahti, Finnair Vice President of Sustainability, said in the release. “We want to be actively involved in developing and implementing new technologies which enable carbon-neutral flying.”


US Air Travel Hits Pre Pandemic High in March

On March 26, more than one million airline passengers went through TSA checkpoints for the 14th consecutive day, according to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.

“JUST IN: @TSA continues to screen more than 1 million people a day at airport checkpoints. On Thursday, March 25th, 1,444,744 people were screened, continuing the string of more than a million per day since March 11th,” Farbstein tweeted on March 26.

On Sunday, March 21, TSA screened more than 1.5 million passengers, a number it has not topped since March 15, 2020.

The high number of air travelers has continued, despite ongoing recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to avoid traveling. While the increase is a positive sign for airlines, it still amounts to only half of the air traffic from the boom levels experienced by the U.S. in 2019, according to a March 21 CNN article.




Air Traffic Management

Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Voice Concerns Over Safety Risk From Layoffs


As Canada’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) Nav Canada goes through a financial restructuring process due to revenue losses suffered under the COVID-19 global pandemic, a survey of the nation’s air traffic controllers outlines their concerns over the safety risk the layoffs could cause.

As part of an ongoing NAV Canada review, layoff notices have been issued to more than 100 air traffic controllers at several control centers including Edmonton, Montreal, Moncton and Gander, according to a March 25 press release published by the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Association (CATCA).

More than 80 percent of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers say public safety will be put at risk if NAV Canada proceeds with intended layoffs and tower closures, according to a survey commissioned earlier this month which heard from 1,400 of Canada’s 1,800 licensed controllers.

All employees at the seven towers included in the study (St-Jean, Que., Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Regina, Fort McMurray, Prince George and Whitehorse) have received letters stating NAV Canada’s intention to permanently close their towers. This is in addition to 1,000 positions that were eliminated across the organization over the past year.


FAA Streamlines Commercial Space Launch and Re-Entry with New Part 450 Rule

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a new Part 450 final rule for commercial space launch and re-entry regulations. The rule contains requirements for obtaining a vehicle operator license, safety requirements, and terms and conditions of a vehicle operator license.

“As we flip the switch on our new Part 450 streamline launch and reentry requirements rule, or what we call SLR2, this performance-based rule will allow us to keep pace with this innovative industry and safely oversee the dramatic growth of the entire commercial space transportation sector,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a video announcing the rule. “With SLR2, we can make sure launch vehicles and their amazing payloads aren’t tethered to the launch pad with red tape. That’s value-added for the industry and ultimately for the American people.”




V-22 Osprey Reaches 600,000 Flight Hours 


Photo from file

The V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft built by Bell Textron and Boeing has reached 600,000 flight hours, according to a March 24 press release. 

“Each V-22 flight hour is the product of a team effort,” Col. Matthew Kelly, V-22 Joint Program Office program manager, said in a statement. “Enabled by pilots, maintainers, testers, engineers, the program workforce and our industry partners who, together, ensure safe and effective V-22 operation.”

The U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force operate over 400 V-22 aircraft, according to the release. 

“There is no other aircraft in the world capable of matching the unique capabilities of the Osprey,” Kurt Fuller, Bell V-22 vice president and Bell Boeing program director, said in a statement. “The 600,000 flight-hours represent countless tactical, logistical and humanitarian assistance missions, and the dedication of the men and women who maintain and operate the aircraft every day to keep it an advanced aircraft.” 


US Navy Begins Program to Upgrade EA-18G Growler Jets

The U.S. Navy completed the first mission systems flight test of the Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB) on an EA-18G Growler last year. (Boeing)

The Navy started a five-year EA-18G Growler Capability Modification (GCM) program this month to upgrade capabilities on the Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

The service’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program Office (PMA-265) commenced the program at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Wash., the Growler fleet homeport, the Navy said March 19. According to a Navy photo description, the first aircraft was inducted into the program on March 3.

The Growler is a variant of the F/A-18 that focuses on jamming radar and communications signals of opponents.

The Growler is set to receive several modifications to support the upcoming release of the Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB) pod, the AM/ALQ-249(V)1. The Navy said these modifications will focus on updating the aircrafts’ Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) and mission systems, “enabling future capability growth for the U.S. Navy’s 160 EA-18Gs that serve a critical role in jamming radar and communications signals of threat forces, hindering their ability to detect and track U.S. and allied military forces.”


Bell Opens New Manufacturing Technology Center in Texas

Bell expects its new Fort Worth, Texas Manufacturing Technology Center to become fully operational by the second half of 2021.

Bell Textron Inc., held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the start of operations at its new Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC). The event marked the next milestone in the center’s development before its opening targeted for summer 2021.

“Through the Manufacturing Technology Center, we can showcase how we will deliver the most affordable, capable and reliable aircraft for the warfighter,” Mitch Snyder, president and CEO, Bell, said in a March 26 press release. “As we work together to define the next generation of Bell products, it’s been gratifying to watch this new facility become a reality.”

Bell named the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift program as one of the future aircraft that will be developed there.





Global Eagle Entertainment Completes Sale to Investor Group


Global Eagle Entertainment Inc. completed the sale of its assets to a group comprising the Company’s first-lien investors and its operations have emerged from the Chapter 11 restructuring process, according to a March 23 press release.

“Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Global Eagle,” Joshua Marks, Chief Executive Officer of Global Eagle said in the release. “Having successfully completed our sale and restructuring process, and now focused fully on mobility, the Company benefits from a stronger balance sheet, enhanced liquidity and blue-chip backing from new owners. We are well-positioned to invest in innovation, drive growth in our business, and continue supporting our customers as they adapt to evolving passenger and guest needs.”

Southwest Airlines is the largest user of Global Eagle’s in-flight connectivity service, which also counts Air France and Norwegian as aviation customers.

As previously announced, Global Eagle’s new owners include certain funds managed by affiliates of Apollo Global Management, Inc., Eaton Vance Management, Mudrick Capital Management, Crestline Investors, Inc., certain funds and accounts managed by Sound Point Capital Management, certain funds and accounts managed by Arbour Lane Capital Management, L.P., and certain funds and accounts under management by BlackRock Financial Management, Inc., among others.


SpaceX Launches 4th Starlink Batch of the Month

Starlink satellites before deployment on SpaceX’s March 24 Falcon 9 mission. (Screenshot via SpaceX.)

SpaceX continued its rapid launch cadence for Starlink missions, launching the fourth batch of satellites this month in an early morning launch on Wednesday. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites took off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 4:28 a.m. on March 24.

Stage separation occurred about 2:30 into the mission. The first stage booster had a successful landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. It was the sixth flight and recovery for this booster. The Starlink satellites were deployed about an hour and four minutes into the mission.

Starlink is a satellite constellation to deliver low-latency broadband internet service from space. The “Better Than Nothing Beta” testing kicked off in the United States in late October of 2020. At this point, Starlink is serving parts of the United States, United Kingdom, Western Germany, and the south island of New Zealand.





Business & GA

Piper Aircraft CEO Simon Caldecott Retires

Simon Caldecott will retire as the CEO of Piper Aircraft next month.

In a March 22 press release, Piper Aircraft announced that Simon Caldecott will retire effective April 2, 2021 after nearly ten years as the company’s President and CEO and a 47-year career in the aviation industry.

Following Mr. Caldecott’s appointment as President and CEO in 2011, he set a new course for Piper Aircraft with a vision to stabilize, improve and grow the business with a specific intent to expand the M-Class product line and revitalize the trainer market. During his tenure, the company designed and introduced the newest M-class flagship product, the M600.

Simon’s leadership and guidance were instrumental in paving the way for the launch of Garmin’s Emergency Autoland technology, known as HALO on the new M600 SLS.

“It has been an honor and privilege leading Piper Aircraft through a transformative journey, from a legacy aircraft manufacturer to the first general aviation manufacturer to certify an autoland equipped general aviation aircraft”, Caldecott said. “We strengthened the leadership team with new talent, made major facility improvements to make a safer workplace and strengthened relations with the community as well as with major suppliers. I am enormously proud of the dedicated team at Piper and our global independent Dealership network. With everything in place, the Company’s future prospects are extremely encouraging and I look forward to a smooth transition.”




Pro Line Fusion Avionics Upgrade Approved for Cessna Citation CJ Jets

The Pro Line Fusion avionics upgrade for the Cessna CJ2+ has achieved FAA type certification. (Collins Aerospace)

Collins Aerospace, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp., announced in a March 23 press release that its Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics system for Cessna Citation CJ2+ light business jets has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Certification of the system on the is “soon to follow,” according to the release.

An initial Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) was launched for Cessna Citation CJ3 aircraft in 2017. This follow-on STC adds the Citation CJ1+ and Citation CJ2+ aircraft while extending new functionality to the Citation CJ3. Other new capabilities include integrated V-speeds, fuel sensing and predictive performance, along with Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) capabilities that position the operator for more efficient arrivals and departures.

Specifically, the Pro Line Fusion upgrade includes:

  • The ability to operate in modernizing global airspace with localizer performance, including vertical guidance (LPV) approaches, radius-to-fix (RF) legs, as well as SBAS capable GNSSBest-Equipped, Best-Served (BEBS) future enhancements
  • Global Performance Based Navigation (PBN), FANS-1/A and CPDLC capabilities
  • Standard industry-leading high-resolution synthetic vision, including Collins Aerospace’s patented airport dome feature, and extended runway centerlines
  • Three touchscreen 14.1-inch widescreen LCDs with advanced graphics, configurable windows and eyes-forward, touchscreen navigation
  • Touch-interactive maps with high-resolution topography, weather and obstacles plus geo-referenced electronic charts displaying own-aircraft position

Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certifications are targeted by the end of the year.


Gulfstream Marks 100th Delivery of G500 and G600 Aircraft

(Gulfstream Aerospace)

Gulfstream Aerospace marked the 100th customer delivery of its next generation G500 and G600 jets in a March 25 press release.

“Gulfstream saw great demand for the all-new G500 and G600 right out of the gate,” Mark Burns, president, Gulfstream, said in the release. “Once they entered service, interest in these innovative aircraft soared even more as operators experienced the compelling combination of the Symmetry Flight Deck and outstanding cabin comfort. Reaching 100 deliveries at this stage in the program is remarkable and a clear reflection of the advantages the G500 and G600 give our customers.”

The G500 entered service in September 2018, with the G600 following in August 2019. To date, the G500 and G600 have achieved more than 60 speed records and a combined total of more than 25,000 hours and more than 13,000 landings.





ZPX-B Now the Smallest Certified Micro-IFF Transponder for UAS

The RT-2087/ZPX-B identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) made by uAvionix Corporation is now certified by the Department of Defense (DoD) Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System Identification Friend or Roe Program Office (AIMS PO).

The RT-2087/ZPX-B identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) made by uAvionix Corporation is now certified by the Department of Defense (DoD) Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System Identification Friend or Roe Program Office (AIMS PO), according to a March 24 press release from the company. 

The ZPX-B reduces size, weight, and power consumption coming in at 3.3 in3, 60 grams, and 3.5 watts, according to the release. It can be used for Group 1-4 UAS and has ADS-B and detect and avoid capabilities as well. 

“It is one thing to produce a 53 gram Mode V microtransponder; it is quite another to actually get it certified,” Maj Gen, USAF (ret) James Poss, founder of ASSURE – the FAA’s Drone Research Center of Excellence, said in a statement. “This is a big step forward in reducing battlefield fratricide for all those small drones the DoD – and their Allies – are producing.” 








Air Taxi


Former FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell Joins Joby Aviation Advisory Board

(Joby Aviation)

Dan Elwell, who served as deputy and acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration between June 2017 and November 2020, has been appointed to the advisory board of Joby Aviation.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Dan to our Advisory Board at this exciting time for Joby Aviation,”  JoeBen Bevirt, Founder and CEO of Joby Aviation said in a March 22 press release. “Dan brings a rare combination of in-the-air, public policy and corporate expertise, gained over decades of working in both the government and private sector. His unique perspective, and the insight he can offer around aircraft certification and airline operations, will be invaluable to Joby as we move towards introducing our service in 2024.”

Elwell joins the Advisory Board as Joby prepares to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners (“Reinvent” or “RTP”), a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Upon the closing of the transaction, the combined company will be named Joby Aviation, and become publicly traded, with its common stock expected to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

“JoeBen’s vision of saving a billion people an hour a day is going to change how we look at air travel. I’m excited to join such a dedicated and passionate team of aviators.



Large Scale UAM Demonstrations Coming to France with TindAIR

The Tactical INstrumental Deconflict And in flight Resolution (TindAIR) will conduct urban air mobility (UAM) exercises in the suburban and urban areas of Toulouse and Bordeaux, France, according to a March 25 press release. 

The demonstrations will be large scale and focus on strategic deconfliction, according to the release. The new project was launched under the SESAR Joint Undertaking. 

TindAIR will demonstrate that UAM operations in urban areas are possible as well as researching safe ways to integrate these new technologies.  



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Avionica Satellite Connectivity System Ready for Airbus A320 Series Upgrades

Avionica’s satLINK max Iridium satellite connectivity system has achieved FAA type certification approval for the Airbus A320 series aircraft. (Avionica)

Airbus A320 series operators have a new Iridium satellite connectivity system aftermarket upgrade available after Avionica and Aircraft Systems Manufacturing (ASM) achieved Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Supplemental Type Certification (STC) approval for the satLINK MAX, with avRDC MAX remote data concentrator and quick access recorder.

The certification approval was developed for the “world’s first operator of the A321P2F series aircraft,” Avionica said in a March 25 press release.

Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), a joint venture established by Singapore-based ST Engineering and Airbus, developed the modification for converting the A321 from passenger to the P2F configuration.

Airbus describes the modification as featuring the integration of a large main deck cargo door in the forward fuselage, plugging the passenger windows, and deactivating most passenger doors. The forwardmost left passenger door is replaced by a smaller one to optimize the number of cargo positions on the main deck.

Airbus published the first interior images of the A321 P2F as it prepared for entry into service in October. (Airbus)

The world’s first A321 passenger-to-freighter (P2F) entered into service for Qantas, operated on behalf of Australia Post, according to an Oct. 27 Airbus press release.

Claudia Espinosa, Vice President of commercial for Avionica, told Avionics International in an emailed statement that this is a “Block 1” Iridium satellite communications system, that has been designed to allow future upgrades to the Iridium Certus and NEXT satellite networks.

“It’s important to note that this aircraft currently had no existing communications and data management hardware,” Espinosa said. “The innovative way that Avionica has designed this system will allow for a future plug and play replacement once Iridium NEXT has been certified for Aviation use.”

The satLINK MAX is Avionica’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) voice and data system capable of providing up to four channels of Iridium satellite-based voice and data communications.

Expansion of the approved design to interface with Avionica’s avWiFi onboard network server (ONS) is on track to achieve type certification by the second half of 2021 through ASM’s recently appointed FAA Organization Designation Authorization.

“Utilizing the existing satLINK Max for long-range communications as the first phase of this program,” Espinosa said. “JANA ASM’s provisioning of Avionica’s current aviONS system enables the A320 aircraft family of operators access to connectivity for EFB moving maps, graphical weather, and third-party applications.”

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PODCAST: Ken Munro Talks Ethical Hacking, Cybersecurity Research and Electronic Flight Bags

Ken Munro is the founder of Pen Test Partners.

On this episode of the Connected Aircraft Podcast, Ken Munro, founder of U.K.-based ethical hacking consulting and security services firm Pen Test Partners joins to discuss some of the latest research he’s been doing around connected electronic flight bags (EFB) and aircraft systems.

Munro is a well-known public speaker who has performed live demonstrations of vulnerabilities that have been exposed on Internet of Things (IoT) devices and systems. He is a security entrepreneur and industry maverick that has worked in infosec for over 15 years. He is a regular speaker at events held by industry bodies and associations and has spoken at the ISSA Dragon’s Den, (ISC)2 Chapter events and CREST (Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers) events, where he sits on the board, helping to establish standards in both member organizations and among individual penetration testers.

We discuss some of the potential consequences of the manipulation of data used by pilots by a malicious hacker, as outlined in his recent blog post, and just how important the testing and assessment of EFB security is.

Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at, 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.

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US Coast Guard to Use NG3 Avionics I/O Computer for Minotaur Program

NG3 will connect to avionics systems on the aircraft and enable sensor and I/O management with custom software for desired processing functions. (Astronics Corp.)

The Coast Guard will be using Astronics Corporation’s new NG3 Avionics I/O Computers for its Minotaur program, according to a March 24 press release. The computer will connect to avionics systems on the aircraft and enable sensor and I/O management with custom software for desired processing functions. 

“The NG3 is a tech insertion by the U.S. Coast Guard to upgrade their current solution from a 32-bit processing and operating system to 64-bit,” Jon Neal, president of Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems, told Avionics International. “This delivers not only higher security functions and increased performance afforded by 64-bit systems but also a much longer serviceable life. The comprehensive feature set of the NG3 makes it an ideal device for this type of tech insertion.” 

The Coast Guard is using the Minotaur mission system architecture on its fixed-wing surveillance aircraft, according to the release. Minotaur is a mission system suite featured on the U.S. Coast Guard’s long range surveillance aircraft, incorporating sensors; radar; and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment.

Aircrews are able to use Minotaur to gather and process surveillance information and then transmit it during flight. 

The Coast Guard’s HC-130J Super Hercules is one of their long range surveillance aircraft that uses the Minotaur system. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The NG3 is a commercial off-the-shelf solution making it readily available and quickly deployable, Neal said. It also uses a modular architecture making it easy to integrate and upgrade. 

“The NG3 features a rugged, high-density, modular architecture allowing for flexible I/O combinations from the factory,” Neal said. “There is a broad array of avionics I/O available, including MIL-STD-1553, ARINC 429/708/717, Serial, CANBus, Discrete I/O, as well as a managed Ethernet switch—the common backbone of many modern avionics systems. In addition, the NG3 includes both audio and video capabilities and USB interfaces. The NG3 can accommodate up to 2 removable mSATA solid-state drives and a Mini PCIe slot for I/O expansion while maintaining the same chassis envelope and size. Mini PCIe expansion provides a low cost, low-risk method to integrate additional I/O.” 

NG3 is engineered for low size, weight, and power making it advantageous in terms of size and power consumption. 

“Ballard products all share a powerful API (Application Programming Interface) to simplify the creation of custom software,” Neal said. “This universal API allows easy and seamless code transfer if it becomes necessary to migrate from one interface platform or operating system to another. This software portability speeds deployment and protects a user’s valuable programming investment.” 


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NASA Prepares for Next Step in Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Flight Demonstration

This graphic shows the general activities the team behind NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter hopes to accomplish on a given test flight on the Red Planet. The helicopter will have 31 Earth days (30 sols, or Martian days) for its test flight program. (NASA)

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has survived as a spacecraft and now its team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is working on its transition into its aircraft duties that could lead it to accomplish the first flight on Mars. 

Ingenuity is a small 4-pound helicopter with 4-foot long carbon fiber blades powered by six lithium-ion batteries. It is currently still attached to the belly of the Perseverance Rover that landed in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. 

“This is, in effect, an aircraft that also happens to be a spacecraft,” J. Bob Balaram, Ingenuity chief engineer at JPL, said during a press conference remotely hosted by NASA on March 23. “It has survived launch. It has survived the journey through space with vacuum and radiation. It has survived the entry and descent and landing on the surface on the bottom of the Perseverance rover and it has survived all of the challenges and design issues that are necessary for a spacecraft. But most of all I think of Ingenuity also as an experimental aircraft.” 

On Sunday NASA released a photo taken by Perseverance’s robotic arm showing the debris shield that once covered Ingenuity on the ground. 

The debris shield, a protective covering on the bottom of NASA’s Perseverance rover, was released on March 21, 2021, the 30th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (NASA)

“The coolest thing is you can see Ingenuity there all tucked in below the rover doing okay, everything is all in place, and she’s ready to get to the surface of Mars,” Farah Alibay, Perseverance integration lead for Ingenuity at JPL, said. 

Now, Perseverance is in the process of driving Ingenuity to its airfield. Ingenuity’s team at JPL began scouting an airfield within several hours of Perseverance’s landing, Håvard Grip, Ingenuity chief pilot at JPL, said. They needed an area that was flat with few obstacles to make it safe for take-off and landing. They also needed an area within the larger flight zone that was flat but also had texture for the helicopter’s cameras and sensors to navigate with. 

This image shows where NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team will attempt its test flights. Helicopter engineers added the locations for the rover landing site, the airfield (the area where the helicopter will take off and return), and the flight zone (the area within which it will fly) on an image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA)

“We began to look for an airfield and the surrounding flight zone first using satellite imagery and then, as it became available, images taken by the rover itself after it landed, and we began to realize that we might just have a really great airfield, right in front of our noses,” Grip said. “We’ve really scoured this area we looked at every little rock and pebble within that airfield and measured it, before we finally were comfortable saying, Yes, this is, this is going to be our home base for the helicopter.” 

Once Perseverance reaches the airfield there will be a 10-day sequence of critical deployments ending with Ingenuity being placed on the surface and Perseverance driving away. 

The location where NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will observe the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s attempt at powered controlled flight at Mars is called “Van Zyl Overlook,” after Jakob van Zyl. Van Zyl was the team’s longtime colleague, mentor, and leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. He passed away unexpectedly in August 2020, about a month after the launch of Perseverance. (NASA)

“We are at a milestone right now where we are on the surface,” Balaram. “We have successfully exposed ourselves with the atmosphere to the atmosphere of Mars. We are right now in the process of having the rover driver us to our location, which will be our airfield. There will be a long 10-day sequence of careful critical deployments, and then there will be the deposition of the helicopter on the surface.” 

These critical deployments involve turning the aircraft from its current horizontal position to a vertical position before it is placed on the ground, Alibay said. 

“That’s a very prescribed and meticulous process where we separate,” Alibay said. “There’s a number of launch slots and attachments that we separate one by one. We’re going to be imaging each time making sure that the helicopter is in the expected position before dropping it on the ground.” 

With Ingenuity on the ground, Perseverance will drive away, however, this must happen within 25 hours so that sunlight can reach Ingenuity’s solar panels to charge its batteries. 

This image shows the flight zone of NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter from the perspective of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. The flight zone is the area within which the helicopter will attempt to fly. (NASA)

“What’s most stressful, is that once the helicopter is separated, we actually have to drive away from it within 25 hours,” Alibay said. “…the helicopter needs photons. It needs sun on its solar panels to charge its batteries, and it can only survive one Martian night without that. So that’s gonna be a very stressful period but what I look forward to the most is after we do that drive we’re going to get that first shot of Ingenuity, on the surface of Mars on her own there and I just cannot wait to get that first picture I think it’s going to be a really great moment for the entire team.” 

Ingenuity will then be fully autonomous and wait for JPL to send it commands, Balaram said. It will take a week for the team to test out sensors, server mechanisms, and motors. 

“We will go through a number of days of commissioning, approximately a week, where we test out sensors, we test out server mechanisms, we test the motors to make sure they spin right, and we’ll be very methodical and even driven as this engineering experiment unfolds,” Balaram said. “Then we will be at a point where we will undertake our first flight.” 

Grip said the first flight will include a takeoff, climb to an altitude of three meters, a 30-second hover, a turn while hovering, and then landing the aircraft. 

“First of all, the first flight is special,” Grip said. “It’s by far the most important flight that we plan to do, it’ll be the first powered flight by an aircraft another planet, and we’ve, in fact met most of our goals for this project, just by getting to the point where we are right now, and will declare complete mission success.” 

Ingenuity will have received its flight plan hours before the flight from JPL. To follow this plan the aircraft will use images taken during the flight to navigate. 

“It has to work very hard during the flight itself in order to make that happen,” Grip said. “In particular, it takes images of the ground below it at a rate of 30 images per second, and analyzes those in order to track the features on the ground, to see how it is moving across the ground. And it combines that with other sensor measurements in order to make tiny adjustments to the controls 500 times per second, to stay exactly on the trajectory that we prescribed for it, and to fight off disturbances that tries to take it away from that trajectory like winds and gusts.” 

If the first flight is successful, there is an opportunity for a second flight. This flight will be planned once data from the first flight is analyzed, Balaram said. The second flight will also have to occur within the 31 Earth days allotted to this experiment. 

The first flight on Mars will also include history from the first flight on Earth. Ingenuity contains a small piece of fabric from the Wright Brother’s spruce wood and fabric system. 

“We are very proud to honor that experimental aircraft from long ago by carrying a small piece of fabric on Ingenuity,” Balaram said. “…This fabric is from the original aircraft that flew at Kitty Hawk.” 

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