The avionics hardware and software market is forecast to grow to $86.9 billion by 2024. How are the avionics manufacturers making their products efficient and reliable? How is the human machine interface being improved to help flight crews be safer and reduce workload? What about the security of these systems? We will take a look at these areas and more.
W. L. Gore & Associates (Gore) has announced several of its next-generation data cable products for aerospace and defense applications have earned an important qualification. The prestigious VG designation from the Bundeswehr, Germany’s unified armed forces as well as related civilian administrative and procurement organizations, is expected to facilitate further adoption of these cables for military use.
“Gore’s cables for land-based and other defense applications are renowned for their durability under the harshest of conditions,” said Andrea Menconi, product manager for land systems. “VG certification from the Bundeswehr is an important recognition of our performance capabilities for current and future programs in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other European countries.”
Gore’s VG-prequalified range of cables include Ethernet Cat6A, 100 Ohms STP, CanBus (STP), USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. Additionally, the company offers products that conform to VG 95218-31 (data cables) and VG 95218-11 (set coils or coiled cables).
Defense standardization is led by the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw in German). The various VG standards, from initiation through application to approval, are analogous to the United States military standard, often referred to as MIL-STD or MIL-SPEC.
Gore says it is fully committed to ongoing support for the VG standard through future new and expanded products.
Thomas Global Systems will demonstrate its latest flight display innovation, the TFD-4000 series flight display, at the 2021 Air Carriers Purchasing Conference (ACPC), September 11-14. The industry-first solution is designed for Bombardier CRJ Series and other Pro Line 4 flight decks and is a form-fit LCD upgrade for legacy Collins Aerospace EFD-4076 cathode ray tube (CRT) flight displays. A prominent North American regional airline has selected the TFD-4000 series for its CRJ Series fleet.
“The TFD-4000 series meets the call of regional jet operators for a practical, drop-in solution to critical CRT display obsolescence, while enhancing system reliability and lowering operating costs. With CRT production for EFD-4076 displays already discontinued, Thomas Global is focused on supporting Bombardier CRJ Series and other Pro Line 4 flight decks for the long term, helping operators get the most out of their flight deck investment,” said David Barnes, Thomas Global’s president and COO.
TFD-4000 series displays allow operators to cost-effectively resolve CRT obsolescence, avoid major flight deck modifications, significantly enhance display reliability, and lower lifecycle costs by combining high-performance AMLCD technology and a proven analog-to-digital (A-D) software core design. The TFD-4000 series displays integrate seamlessly into existing EFD-4076 Pro Line 4 architecture and Built-In Test Equipment (BITE), are interchangeable and intermixable with legacy EFD-4076 CRT displays, and do not impact OEM display software Service Bulletins. The TFD-4000 series features flexibility and scalability to deliver additional functionality, while decreasing Size, Weight, Power, and Cost (SWaP-C).
Thomas Global’s innovative drop-in CRT-to-LCD flight display upgrades are already certified and available for Boeing 757, 767 and 737-C, Saab 340, EMB120, Dash 8, ATR 42/72 and a range of other commercial, business and military aircraft.
Thomas Global will be showcasing this innovative technology at ACPC 2021 from Saturday, September 11 through Tuesday, September 14, 2021.
W. L. Gore & Associates (Gore) announced the expansion of its Coaxial Cables line for defense land system applications. The new product is smaller and lighter than previous offerings, yet capable of transmitting ultra-high-definition (UHD) 4K video with excellent shielding from radio frequency interference.
The cable meets a variety of internationally recognized civil and military specifications, including the latest Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) 12G-SDI standard. Published in March 2015, 12G-SDI defines a 12 gigabit per second transmission of uncompressed, latency-free UHD 4K video at 60 frames per second on a single wire. Gore is committed to delivering this performance at operating temperatures ranging from -55 to 200 degrees Celsius.
“Military vehicles today include multiple sensors that generate critical video during missions,” said Andrea Menconi, product manager for land systems. “GORE Coaxial Cables can transmit this UHD video reliably and securely, even in the harshest environments.”
Designed for use with remote-controlled turret cameras, local situation awareness, and other video-generating sensor systems, GORE Coaxial Cables are engineered with a specialized fluoropolymer insulation. This provides superior resistance to weather, abrasion and other hazards associated with extreme weather, rough usage and confined routing space.
“Vehicle and system engineers no longer need to compromise,” Menconi added. “Our Coaxial Cables are smaller, lighter and more flexible, while also providing unequalled video resolution performances, high durability and standards compliance to reduce long-term operating costs.”
AdaCore announced that Collins Aerospace has selected AdaCore’s QGen code generator for Simulink/Stateflow models, and the new TQL-1 Enterprise Qualification Package, to advance the development of their FAA-certifiable PerigonTM computer, which is designed to support the future flight control and vehicle management needs of commercial and military rotary/fixed wing platforms. By using the TQL-1 release of QGen, PerigonTM software developers are able to save thousands of hours of testing, verification, and certification efforts, while providing additional safety guarantees to their customers. With the adoption of the QGen Enterprise Qualification Package, Collins is now able to streamline its model-based engineering practices.
AdaCore says QGen is the first qualifiable code generator for a safe subset of the Simulink/Stateflow modeling languages. QGen automatically generates C or Ada source code directly from the model while precisely preserving its functionality, eliminating the need for manual verification of the resulting source code. For systems requiring the highest assurance, such as commercial aerospace, medical device, and autonomous driving applications, the QGen code generator is being qualified by AdaCore and its partner Verocel at DO-178C Tool Qualification Level 1 (TQL-1), which is the highest level of qualification recognized by the FAA. QGen with TQL-1 allows developers to use the generated code without any manual review, streamlining the critical-system development and verification process. In addition, QGen includes an interactive model-level debugger, displaying the model together with the generated source code to provide a uniquely productive bridge between control engineering and software engineering.
QGen is now available with an Enterprise Qualification Package. This package comes with flexible licensing so that projects of any size, company-wide, can take advantage of the use of a TQL-1 qualified autocode generator. The package is based on a unique subscription approach, which provides an enhanced qualification kit every year. The same warranties are provided to all projects, including expert support for certification audits. Large organisations that perform many of their development and verification activities through model simulation can now dramatically reduce verification activities on the generated code, reducing costs while streamlining the overall certification process.
“AdaCore is excited to partner with Collins Aerospace to bring to market the first TQL-1 code generator for Simulink,” said JC Bernedo, AdaCore QGen team lead. “AdaCore has worked closely with Collins throughout the development of QGen to ensure it meets the development needs of their most critical aerospace software.”
A major international cargo operator has selected Thomas Global’s TFD-7076 LCD displays from the TFD-7000 Series to replace the legacy cathode ray tube (CRT) Engine Indicating & Crew Alerting System (EICAS) displays remaining in the operator’s Boeing 767 flight decks, which had previously been retrofitted by Innovative Solutions & Support, Inc. (IS&S).
“We are honored to be selected by another internationally respected Boeing 767 operator,” said David Barnes, Thomas Global’s president & COO. “This award reinforces the TFD-7000’s position as a comprehensive flight deck LCD solution, or a standalone EICAS for B757/767 flight decks. In either case, the TFD-7000 enhances EICAS reliability, reduces lifecycle costs and eliminates the growing problems associated with obsolete CRT technology.”
The TFD-7000 Series is a drop-in replacement for all legacy CRT displays in Boeing 767, 757 and 737 flight decks. It also provides a standalone LCD solution for the CRT-based EICAS displays remaining in B757/767s installed with the IS&S flat panel retrofit.
The TFD-7000 Series captures all the benefits of LCD technology, delivers dramatic operating efficiency and life-cycle cost improvements, and a growth platform for emerging airspace requirements. The drop-in design avoids major flight deck modifications, significantly reducing associated aircraft downtime and crew retraining costs.
The TFD-7076/7066 drop-in LCD solution replaces legacy Collins Aerospace EDU-776/766 CRT displays currently installed on Boeing 757, 767, and 737 Classic flight decks. Its inventive plug-and- play design means displays are both interchangeable and intermixable with the existing legacy EDU- 776/766 CRT displays, are installable on overnights or at the gate, and require no flight or maintenance crew retraining. STC approvals have been received from FAA, EASA, Transport Canada, JCAB, ANAC and CAAC.
Collins Aerospace has signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately held FlightAware, a leading digital aviation company providing global flight tracking solutions, predictive technology, analytics and decision-making tools.
Closure of the acquisition is subject to the completion of customary conditions and regulatory approvals. Following closing, FlightAware will join Collins’ Information Management Services portfolio within the company’s Avionics strategic business unit. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
“Global connectivity now shapes and impacts every segment of aviation. FlightAware is the recognized leader in data collection, analytics and customer experience, which will help Collins unlock the full power of the connected ecosystem for our customers,” said Dave Nieuwsma, Collins Aerospace’s head of Avionics. “FlightAware’s flight tracking and data platform, the largest in the world, has the potential to deliver new capabilities and innovations across our entire business.”
“The world’s aerospace companies and aircraft operators are looking to digital aviation to provide the next revolution in aviation efficiency and reliability,” said Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware, “and we are excited to join Collins Aerospace and Raytheon Technologies at this pivotal time to continue to lead that revolution at an even broader scale.”
Honeywell’s compact satellite communications technology will be used to bring safety, connectivity and efficiency to three of Pipistrel’s new aircraft, including the fixed-wing Surveyor and both unmanned Nuuva platforms, the V300 and smaller V20.
Weighing in at only 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), Honeywell’s Small UAV SATCOM system is 90% lighter than the company’s next smallest connectivity system, yet the company says it brings the same capabilities enjoyed by larger aircraft to the Nuuva V300, V20 and Surveyor. Honeywell’s popular product targeting a rapidly growing new market segment, will for the first time be implemented specifically on an unmanned cargo or optionally manned aerial vehicle.
“We are excited to offer our customers a global communication solution, which is location independent and cost-effective,” said Pipistrel CEO Ivo Boscarol. “The addition of Honeywell’s Small UAV SATCOM to our unmanned aircraft platforms unlocks global beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) connectivity for command-control, as well as mission-specific data relay. Our customers will enjoy the ability to connect to their assets anytime, anywhere, without the need to set up elaborate ground-based BVLOS infrastructure.”
Traditionally, satellite communications terminals have only been available to install on larger business and commercial transport aircraft due to their large size, weight and the power required. However, Honeywell’s Small UAV SATCOM system is 30% lighter than competing options, customizable and can be installed in different locations on an aircraft to accommodate a wide range of platforms.
“Honeywell’s small UAV SATCOM system is a game-changer for small or medium-sized unmanned aircraft, such as the Nuuva cargo or Surveyor aircraft, that previously couldn’t be equipped with satellite communications,” said Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager, Unmanned Aerial Systems and Urban Air Mobility at Honeywell Aerospace.
The system provides unmanned aerial vehicles with global coverage and real-time video streaming to the ground. It also enables beyond-line-of-sight capabilities, so vehicles can be operated remotely beyond the operator’s visual sight. It can be used for a variety of applications, including logistics and delivery services performed by UAVs. Also, the Small UAV SATCOM can keep vehicles connected even in remote areas or over water where other ground-based communications systems, such as 4G, are not available.
Marc Bouliane, vice president of Business Development, Marketing and Services for Universal Avionics (UA), announced recently that Jean-Marie Bégis has been appointed as director of Product Management and Partnerships. In this new role, Bégis will initially drive connectivity related product initiatives and contribute to UA’s innovation strategies.
Bégis joins UA with 20 years of experience in business development and implementation of mission critical mobile communications, aircraft data link services, and aerospace systems. He is experienced in the management of complex international programs and delivery of ‘connected aircraft’ avionics, data link and cockpit and cabin information systems and services. Prior to joining UA, Bégis held director level positions in engineering, and business and product development at SITA, CMC Electronics, and GE Aviation JV-Avionica.
Teledyne Controls has obtained FAA Supplemental Type Certification (STC) approval for installation of its Aircraft Cabin Environment Sensor (ACES) on the Airbus A320 aircraft series. Teledyne ACES is an autonomous solution that enables air transport operators to monitor, measure and analyze air quality in the cabin and flight deck to help them ensure a safe and positive flying experience for passengers and crew. ACES was recently certified for the Boeing 737 aircraft and certification for other aircraft types is in progress.
“Never before has monitoring air quality been more important. Unexpected smoke, odor or fume events can result in cancelled flights, expensive maintenance costs and potential health risks to passengers and crew. Although air quality monitoring solutions are available for homes, offices, and industrial areas, there is no automatic equipment installed on board most aircraft today,” explained George Bobb, vice president of Teledyne Technologies and segment president, Teledyne Aerospace and Defense Electronics. “Having ACES certified for both the Airbus A320 family and the Boeing 737 aircraft is a significant step forward. It gives airline executives, engineering, and maintenance teams the ability to monitor cabin air quality on a large portion of the world’s aircraft flying today with a solution ready to deploy.”
With wireless connectivity to a secure cloud service portal, Teledyne ACES laboratory-grade sensor technology continuously monitors and records the air quality in the cabin and flight deck for potentially harmful contaminants. The extensive air quality data collected during flight is available in real time on any mobile device through the ACES mobile app and via secure web access to the ACES Cloud Service Portal, which provides configurable dashboards, custom alerts and comprehensive reports that enable the operator to validate the air quality in the airplane, identify emerging issues and document maintenance efforts.
Teledyne ACES was specifically designed for the aviation industry. It combines Teledyne Technologies’ air quality and gas monitoring expertise, along with Teledyne Controls’ experience in designing, manufacturing and certifying aircraft data management and connectivity systems. The company says the combination of air quality data from ACES and aircraft performance data already available from their other avionics gives airlines a greater view of how their aircraft are performing.
Any doubts about the speed in which next-gen technology is changing aviation were swiftly removed last year on the battlefields of the South Caucus.
From September 27 to November 10, the militaries of Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh. Though numerically similar in manpower, the outcome was a rout; years of investing oil revenue into its military budget gave the Azerbaijani forces a decisive technological advantage.
The key weapon systems leading to the victory were unmanned aircraft. Used for reconnaissance, precision strikes, and propaganda, Azerbaijan’s Bayraktar TB2 drones cut through Armenian armored vehicles and facilitated lethally precise artillery strikes. The short but bloody conflict sent a clear message to the world: tomorrow’s aerial battlefield is already here.
The future of aviation was on display in those mountain valleys, but the full realization of its commercial potential is still years away. It is one thing to show performance capability for military objectives, another entirely to prove that technologies poised to shape aviation’s future – including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, which hover, take off, and land vertically — can safely integrate into the National Airspace System (NAS).
“Military use of unmanned aircraft is showing this technology’s utility but it’s a very different regulatory picture than commercial use,” said Tom Furey, CEO of Sagetech Avionics, which develops situational awareness avionics for unmanned aircraft. “There is substantial economic benefit for the commercial use of UAS — long-range pipeline inspections, bridge inspections, deliveries – but operators are limited by the need to interoperate safely in civil air space.”
The reality for unlocking the full capabilities of unmanned and electric aircraft — including long-term industry goals like Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), manned or automated air taxis that will zip passengers and cargo around cityscapes – is that regulators must be convinced these technologies will not disrupt a century’s worth of hard-earned safety infrastructure.
Considerable research, testing, and standard setting must still occur before next steps like widespread Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) UAS operations receive the regulatory green light to become commercially scalable.
But every day, technological breakthroughs are pushing the industry closer to its long-term strategic goals. From increasingly sophisticated Detect and Avoid (DAA) systems that ensure unmanned aircraft recognize and act on collision threats, to remote pilot training built on long-established best practices, the future aviation sector is maturing rapidly – and answering many of the safety questions asked of it.
What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
An example of the work that goes into answering these questions took place on June 14 in Bigfork, Montana, when uAvionix, which provides safety solutions for the integration of UAS into the NAS, conducted a 40-mile Beyond Radio Line of Sight demonstration of its internal test eVTOL UAS.
This demonstration showcased multiple technologies integral to unmanned flight: the company’s George autopilot flight control solution, which leverages DO-160G and DO-254 design assurance to enable autonomous flight; SkyLine Command & Control (C2) infrastructure management service, which manages communication with the aircraft; skyStation Ground Radio Systems (GRS), which expand the data link coverage range; TSO certified truFYX SBAS GPS, which provides a certified position source for UAS navigation; and pingRX Pro ADS-B IN DAA receiver
One of the myriad challenges facing unmanned entry into civil airspace was quickly apparent.
“We were mounted on a transmission tower that included high-power UHF broadcasts, and one of the two redundant radios experienced interference from that system,” said uAvionix president Christian Ramsey. “But the secondary radio was not affected; although they are designed to operate from the same frequencies, in the same enclosures, they have different antennas and filtering architectures to make them more robust against interference.”
With the interference mitigated through the company’s frequency hopping algorithms, the flight was uneventful — exactly the kind of demonstration that will need to be repeated consistently over the coming years for unmanned technology over 55 pounds (the current limit of Federal Air Regulation Part 107, which provides guidance and pilot certification for use of <55 lb. small UAS) to take the leap into widespread commercial viability. The industry is moving towards legally enforced protected spectrum frequencies, which regulators will control certification access to through Technical Standard Order (TSO) certification. To prepare for this, Ramsey says his team is focusing on the “enterprise service layer” for C2. “You’ve got radios dotting your landscape and each of those radios in isolation has the credential of a TSO, but that’s not all there is to it,” said Ramsey. “You have to figure out how to tie those radios together with the underlying network and architecture — cyber security, redundancy, and everything that will manage that system.”
Detecting and Avoiding Airborne Hazards
Manned aviation has long utilized commercial versions of an Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) to make interrogations of Mode C and Mode S transponders of nearby aircraft. Three versions of ACAS are in development for UAS: ACAS-Xu (fixed-wing UAS operating under Part 91 or Part 135 rules), ACAS-Xr (Xu for rotorcraft), and ACAS-sXu (sUAS).
Sagetech develops ACAS-based DAA solutions that aim to help push unmanned and EVTOL manufacturers through the ever-evolving compliance process using miniature components specially made for the unmanned market, like its MXS Mode S Transponder and MXE Mode S Interrogator.
“The ultimate goal is connecting proven robust and reliable collision avoidance technology directly to the autopilot so if you send your asset to inspect 300 miles of pipeline and it encounters another aircraft, it will automatically avoid it without someone having to watch every step of the way,” said Furey.
On July 27, Sagetech performed two types of flight trials of its DAA systems — manned, using Piper Archers, and unmanned using a Penguin C UAS — and demonstrated that its system always recognized the other aircraft and provided the appropriate alerts and warnings.
“This was cooperative collision avoidance; our next step will be to integrate radar — non-cooperative sensors,” said Furey. “It will go into the same logic, it just won’t coordinate with the other aircraft. It will recognize traffic, classify it as a possible collision and react without communicating with the other aircraft.”
Avionics for Complex Missions
One key advantage of unmanned over manned aircraft is their ability to fly over hazardous areas where the operation of unmanned aircraft could be risky for the crew.
Industrial use of unmanned aircraft will require reliable functionality in difficult weather conditions, such as those found in marine environments. Madrid-based UAV Navigation, which develops autopilots and flight control systems for unmanned systems, specializes in this area.
One of the most difficult challenges for VTOL platforms is the transition from vertical to horizontal flight and vice versa; the UAV Navigation flight control system automates this critical procedure while providing operators with safety procedures and logical redundancy to ensure the aircraft reaches a safe landing zone in even the most challenging environments, such as those without a reliable GNSS signal.
“If you plan to go to a moving vessel or frigate, for example, you need to take into account factors such as wind turbulence and the electromagnetic environment,” said Miguel Ángel de Frutos, CTO of UAV Navigation. “It is a big piece of iron in the middle of the ocean; if you plan to use an altimeter, the interference could make it tricky.”
The company’s extensive research into causes of component failure, including the need to defend against jamming attacks, has borne fruit in products like its VECTOR-600 autopilot for fixed wing, rotary wing, and VTOL UAVs, which is designed to survive all individual sensor failures.
“We take pride in our approach to redundancy because it’s not about having just one landing — it’s about having 10 successful landings in a row,” said Ángel de Frutos.
Revolutions in Autonomous Flight
Minimizing human involvement in the flying process will be the greatest enhancement to aviation safety, argues Luuk van Dijk, founder, CEO and CTO of Switzerland-based Daedalean, which develops autonomous piloting systems.
Humans are not only a performance bottleneck to denser use of airspace, according to van Dijk, but will increasingly be a problematic factor for companies looking to make the AAM space profitable. Pilots take up space on the already small EVTOL aircraft, necessitate limited flight schedules, and pose labor supply risks (e.g., the projected pilot shortage).
To make the case that Daedalean’s systems based on Machine Learning can replicate and exceed human capabilities – in other words, the ability to solve problems currently only solved by human pilots and air traffic controllers — they chose to replicate piloting under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) as natural starting point.
“We concluded that in VFR, the visual information is much richer and much more reliable than what the existing instruments bring. To truly match that level of precision reliability and availability, you will have to make something that is as aware of its surroundings as the human pilots,” said van Dijk.
Daedalean’s Machine Learning-based visual systems are aimed at working on VTOL/rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft. They consist of several (one to four) avionics-grade cameras and a computing platform running the company’s algorithms; the sensory input is fed into this in real time to provide situational data for visual positioning (which allows navigation alternative to GPS), traffic detection (visual DAA, including non-cooperative hazards) and visual landing — all the tasks performed by a pilot under VFR.
“We figured if you want to build autonomy to fit in the airspace as it is today, you have to make a pilot, or first a co-pilot, that can satisfy all those rules,” said van Dijk. “Reducing cockpit workload is really the proving ground for the technology. We have to show that we can reach a safety level that in turn allows an increased density of operations.”
Next-Gen Vehicles Built for Safety
Cutting edge developments on the avionics side are matched by innovations on the aircraft themselves. As Archer Aviation engineers develop the company’s full-scale eVTOL aircraft, Maker, they are learning valuable lessons about how to prioritize safety and power while balancing commercial factors such as component availability.
The company’s Meru battery pack is designed to maximize energy within mission constraints, such as power required for vertical takeoff and landing, in addition to safety and cyclizing cost requirements.
“There are really interesting future battery technologies, lithium metal, silicon anodes, etc. that have great promise but aren’t ready for commercialization yet,” said Geoffrey Bower, Archer’s chief engineer. “We’re taking the pragmatic approach using the cells that are available today, in production, at relatively low cost, while factoring in that our batteries will have higher power requirements and, at the pack level, more stringent safety and reliability type requirements than similar technology for the automotive sector.”
Maker has six independent battery packs that are each connected to two of its 12 motors, and the aircraft is designed to be tolerant to the failure of one of those packs. Redundancy, battery management system, accurate state of charge and health estimations, thermal runaway propagation prevention — these are all elements that the Archer team considers as it builds to certification requirements.
Bower is quick to note that redundancy itself does not guarantee safety; the team is equally focused on reliability of individual components and having the right quality assurance systems in place throughout the organization to maintain and improve safety.
“We’re also considering things like similarity of different processing chips, different software development teams — those are all things we’re thinking about from a safety and reliability standpoint,” he said.
Advanced Safety Testing
Testing can be one of the most expensive and challenging parts of next-gen aviation development. Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company that creates advanced aircraft and autonomous flight systems, is reducing friction in this space with its Centaur optionally piloted aircraft (OPA).
Based on a general aviation aircraft, Centaur provides a test platform with large payload capacity and streamlined access to the NAS with Aurora’s Airworthiness certificate.
“Centaur can operate in piloted, remotely piloted, or hybrid flight mode,” said Carrie Haase, executive lead, Flight Operations. “In hybrid mode, Centaur is controlled from a ground station while also carrying an on-board safety pilot to comply with regulations and ensure a safe flight. With an on-board safety pilot, testing can more easily be done, eliminating the need for time and cost-intensive travel to a remote test site.”
This summer, Centaur participated in testing with regulators to better understand the impact of large BVLOS operations in the NAS.
Haase notes that the company’s approach to autonomous flight system safety testing, which informs its support of a wide variety of Boeing next-gen projects, does not necessarily revolve around the absence of humans.
“Rather, it means decision-making for and with humans to perform in a trustworthy way,” she said. “We put experienced aviators on- or over-the-loop and in teams with unmanned systems in realistic simulations to test architectures, interface models, and interact methods against relevant scenarios.”
Also facilitating more streamlined testing practices is the increasing availability of certified, low-SWaP (Size, Weight, Power) components that allow manufacturers to focus their R&D efforts elsewhere.
“Up until recently, most of our potential customers have said ‘This is interesting but we’re not ready to deal with that yet — we’re worrying about getting our aircraft to fly,’” said Furey. “Now that they’ve gotten their aircraft to fly, they have to worry about the components required to fly their operations.”
Companies like Sagetech, UAV Navigation and uAvionix are reducing headaches by providing certified and certifiable avionics designed to minimize the amount of required onboard infrastructure.
“That’s critically important for reducing cost to the end user and conveniently translates much better into the AAM market where SWAP is at a premium,” said Ramsey. “Saving grams and milliwatts is much more important to them than to a GA operation.”
Refining the Human Factor
“In the remotely piloted world, you don’t have a shared fate — but you’re still operating an advanced technology in complex airspace,” said Joshua Olds, president of the Unmanned Safety Institute (USI), which provides remote pilot education and certification.
The “shared fate” refers the relationship that pilots have with manned aircraft. This is a psychological difference that remote pilot training must account for, he says, to help practitioners fully understand how their actions reverberate in the NAS.
Unmanned safety training organizations like USI are contributing to the maturation of the sector by building unmanned education around tried and tested aviation safety practices. “We can learn a lot from history,” says Olds, who notes that the most successful unmanned programs are run by existing aviation flight departments or longtime aviators.
“There are so many parallels, such as the importance of maintaining a sterile flight deck even though you’re not ‘in’ a flight deck,” he said. “Crew resource management, aeronautical decision making, human factors — these are topics that are very familiar in traditional aviation and are critically important when geared to remotely piloted aircraft.”
As unmanned operations grow in complexity — such as companies receiving federal waivers for BVLOS or night operations — so does the knowledge required to safely mitigate the corresponding risks.
Olds provides an example of a BVLOS infrastructure inspection operation. To safely achieve the mission goals, technicians must ensure the technology will operate as intended, crew members must brief pilots on potential infrastructure (or lack thereof) that could impact command and/or control, and pilots must know how to act on this information.
“To become as risk-averse as possible requires embedding the knowledge and the skill-based perspective from not just the remote pilot’s perspective, but also the technician and flight planning perspectives to reduce or mitigate both ground and airborne risks,” said Olds.
Poised for the Future, Delivering Benefits in the Present
The industry’s full-throated effort to prove the safety of future technology is providing commercial opportunities right now. Products like Daedalean’s visual systems — which are already available to help enhance the safety of manned operations — exemplify this confluence of immediate benefit and long-term potential.
“While we prove in the GA market that this technology makes a great copilot, we build up the evidence that it could be a good first pilot too,” said van Dijk.
Efforts to enhance the safety of existing flight systems are intertwined with development of next-gen technology, said Ramsey, noting that the sector’s focus on low-power, low-cost solutions has resulted in some of the core engineering technologies the company uses for both GA and unmanned aircraft.
“We’re looking to take this technology we’ve certified for GA primary instrument use — if you lose other systems in your cockpit, these IMUs and displays are safe enough to get you home — and see how it can be leveraged in AAM,” he said.
Technology is also helping the industry visualize its future infrastructure. Archer Aviation’s proprietary Prime Radiant data tracking and simulation software projects future demand for UAM flights — optimizing routing of an aircraft through a city, determining the most efficient battery charge cycle, and providing a glimpse of how to assign passengers to vertiports and aircraft.
“We’re pulling in data sources to understand where people are travelling within cities, where to put the vertiports to address existing demand, and to zero in on vehicle requirements to see which trips provide the most value to passengers,” said Bower.
The forward-thinking nature of products like Prime Radiant sums up the state of the future aviation sector — always looking ahead to what’s next, even as it works to answer the questions that will open those doors.