Honeywell Adds Major Upgrades to Helicopter Avionics

 - March 24, 2021, 8:08 AM
Honeywell's Phase 8 upgrade is available for the Leonardo AW139. (Photo: Honeywell)

Honeywell avionics engineers have been busy developing new products for helicopters, primarily Leonardo’s AW139. The medium-twin helicopter’s Honeywell Epic avionics suite is now upgradeable to the latest standard—Phase 8—and operators soon will be able to add Honeywell’s RDR-7000 weather radar and the -036 enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) upgrade.

For AW139 operators that already have Phase 7, Phase 8 is a relatively easy upgrade. Available now in new-build AW139s, Phase 8, which includes the Inav 2.0 interface, was certified in September 2020 by EASA and should soon be approved by the FAA. Leonardo will offer a service bulletin to upgrade in-service AW139s, according to Adam Gavrich, Honeywell senior technical sales manager, defense and helicopter platforms, and this work can be done by Honeywell dealers.

The Phase 8 upgrade adds track-centered capability to the SmartView synthetic vision system (SVS), which aids pilot situational awareness. Track-centered SVS is available at speeds higher than 30 knots; below that it reverts to heading-centered.

Terrain cautions and warnings are now displayed in the SVS, rather than just textual and audible warnings. Energy awareness and aircraft state information, such as a flight-path vector and power cue, are also available.

Pilots can interact with any spot on moving maps with the new free-floating cursor, which previously was restricted to certain areas. For example, by clicking on a spot on the map, the pilot can add a custom waypoint and use that to build a route. “It’s ideal for search and rescue,” Gavrich said.

New approach capability has been added to the flight management system (FMS), allowing pilots to add custom offshore standard approach procedures (OSAP) and visual approaches to any waypoint. These can be added to the flight plan and coupled to the autopilot. The visual approaches can be set for up to a 12-degree descent path directly to the waypoint. OSAPs have a level segment after reaching the waypoint, and the Honeywell upgrade allows pilots to enter the wind information and desired approach to the waypoint, and then the avionics build the lateral and vertical profile automatically.

The RDR-7000 weather radar brings features introduced with the RDR-4000 fixed-wing radar to rotorcraft. The new radar, the first solid-state radar for the rotorcraft market, weighs 15 pounds and has a 12-inch antenna. Like the -4000, the -7000 has no magnetron, which improves reliability and lowers power requirements considerably.

The RDR-7000 is a volumetric radar that scans constantly and stores returns in a buffer, then it displays the most significant information to the pilot. Other features include hazard alerting such as turbulence detection to 60 nm, and predictive hail and lightning. “We can predict lightning five to ten minutes before it occurs,” Gavrich said, with lightning, hail, and turbulence symbology shown layered on top of radar returns. “There’s no need to analyze the returns,” he explained. “It’s very intuitive.”

For improved search and rescue operations, the RDR-7000 has a maritime ground mapping mode, which eliminates noise from radar returns of water in high sea states. At the same time, it can automatically detect water-borne targets such as ships, adding a symbol to make them easier for pilots to spot. This eliminates the need to install a beacon on a target, as was necessary to spot targets with older non-solid-state radars.

The AW139 STC will be available soon, and Honeywell is working on other platforms for RDR-7000 upgrades.

Honeywell worked with helicopter safety organization HeliOffshore, the UK CAA, and EASA to develop safety and situational awareness enhancements that are included in the -036 upgrade for the EGPWS MK XXII helicopter terrain awareness and warning system (HTAWS). The work is part of HeliOffshore’s HTAWS workgroup, which recommended increasing alert envelopes to help pilots recognize and respond quickly to unsafe conditions. The enhanced alert envelopes resulted from simulator research conducted in 2017, to verify UK CAA CAP 1519 protection envelopes, and now those are incorporated in the -036 upgrade.

For offshore flying, -036 adds new modes optimized for oil rig operations, according to Vamsi Gundluru, senior director for Epic integrated avionics systems. For example, the new 3D mode warns pilots of a drop in airspeed during takeoff, he said, especially in heavy winds. Mode 44B helps pilots manage varying terrain clearance, position, and radio height warnings when rough weather causes a rig's helipad to move up and down tens of feet. “It develops an envelope around the helicopter and protects it during these operations,” said Gundluru. The upgrade is available for AW139s with Phase 7 and higher avionics and it has already been EASA approved, with FAA approval imminent. It will also be available for any helicopter with Honeywell’s EGPWS MK XXII HTAWS.