MUNICH, 21 Feb. 2013. Various military officials worldwide are opting to upgrade the avionics on existing fleets, rather than adopting new aircraft; yet, legacy platforms and avionics systems present myriad challenges. The trials and benefits of legacy avionics was the topic of a networking lecture, part of Avionics Europe 2013, held at the Munich Technical University (abbreviated as TUM) in Garching, Germany, and hosted by the University and the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Alan Faulkner, B.Tech, C.Eng., M.I., Mech.E in SPM AFCS/Rigs CH53 PV research & development at Eurocopter, an EADS company, in Munich delivered the talk, on the avionics upgrade of the Sikorsky CH-53G military helicopter, at TUM. The rotorcraft is an ISAF vehicle used by the German Army, he says.
Eurocopter has been responsible for maintenance and repair of the CH-53G since 1992. In 2007, the company won a contract to upgrade 40 CH-53G to the CH-53GS variant.
The goals of the rotorcraft upgrade program were:
- extend service life until 2030
- address obsolescence issues
- easier self-deployment, such as with full IFR
- modern COM, NAV, and DMAP avionics
- enhanced self-protection, via EWS
- reduce pilot workload and fatigue
- modern autopilot system (AFCS) and enhanced mission modes
- upgrade another 40 CH-53G to the CH-53GA variant
The challenges of the avionics upgrade project included:
- Not starting with a clean slate (white sheet of paper)
- Removal of one element triggers other challenges, removal of other elements
- Knowing when to stop removing legacy systems
Engineers can strengthen fuselage components with rivets and new bolts, but upgrading avionics is a much more complex process, Faulkner says.
The Eurocopter engineers completely removed the cockpit, as well as all wiring throughout the helicopter, when a challenge arose. The same pilots would be flying both variants, a fact which presented a major human-machine interface (HMI) issue.
“The modern cockpit is not only a generation change in hardware technology,” Faulkner explains, “but also a HMI transition.” The avionics upgrade had to deliver a consistent look and feel, and a conversion training program was needed.
Five multifunctional displays in the new instrument panel replaced two instruments (gauges) in what Faulkner calls “the most luxurious instrument panel on military aircraft.”
The Eurocopter team—including technology partners Rockwell Collins, EADS Defense, Northrop Grumman LITEF, Rhode + Schwarz, Thales, Sagem, Leach, and Telephonics—modernized the cockpit and built a full-cockpit trainer. “It is an impressive simulator,” he says, “and one that enables flight crew familiarization, software maturity assessment, and full certification credit.”
The CH-53G upgrade program commenced in Feb. 2007 and culminated in certification in Nov. 2012.
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