Upgraded avionics for workhorse helos

Emerging advanced flight displays and safety systems for rotary wing aircraft flown in instrument conditions.

Glenn Connor
President, Discover Technology Inc
ATP. Cessna 425

Sikorsky S92 inflight over Riyadh at night. In addition to flight instrumentation, the cockpit is equipped with FLIR imagery to aid in the identification of obstacles, improve SA and increase safety. Vision technology is moving from the center pedestal to the PFD, making it easier and quicker to include in a pilot's normal scanning pattern.

Most recent refinements of the helicopter as a work tool have led to remarkable advancements in their time and life-saving capabilities. Dependency on helicopters for passenger transportation and delivering supplies is more related to a company's mission than it is to a fascination with the rotorcraft itself.

But the helicopter's efficiency is constantly challenged by the practicalities of safety, mainly because of the types of operations these business tools are designed for: low altitude, close to terrain and in proximity to man-made objects. Recent regulations and innovations can help address these issues.

According to the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST), a group formed to promote safe helicopter practices and better technology, 50% of 104 fatal accidents that occurred from 2009 to 2013 came from 3 occurrence categories. These areas – loss of control (inflight), unintended IMC and low altitude operations – could benefit from the use of newer equipment and operational practices.

For 2016, according IHST data, about 60% of all controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents were fatal, more than 80% of EMS helicopter CFIT accidents occurred at night, and about 70% of non-EMS CFIT accidents occurred during the day. The IHST report goes on to say that about 80% of CFIT accidents occurred during non-takeoff or landing phases of flight (ie, cruise).

However, these statistics need to be considered in context. Safety of helicopter operations has greatly improved over the past decade and the development of new practices and regulatory equipage requirements has led to better sustained performance. Preliminary data shows that the 2016 accident rate was 3.19 per 100,000 flight hrs, compared to 3.67 in 2015. But it's the goal of the industry to achieve zero accidents, and this goal is the reason for the continuous self-examinations.

The positive effects of technology on helicopter operations is underscored by similar and encouraging data on other aviation activities. For example, the fixed wing fleet CFIT rate fell by 80% globally following the fixed wing terrain avoidance and warning system (TAWS) mandate. But even with compelling evidence, the rate of adoption of new technologies sometimes has to be motivated with regulatory mandates.

Both the FAA and US Congress have taken note of the lack of certain technology in helicopters. So in 2010 they began defining new regulations for a range of helo operators – including those related to Part 91 and 135 – to require additional training and equipage, even limiting some types of missions. Equipage mandates for Part 135 helicopter operations include a radio altimeter and helicopter TAWS (HTAWS), both of which were due by Apr 24, 2017, a flight data recorder (Apr 23, 2018) and ADS-B capability (Jan 1, 2020).

New safety-enhancement panel equipment for helicopters

MD 902 Explorer with Genesys IDU-680 system. Features include 3D synthetic vision, geo-referenced hover, HTAWS, integrated ADS-B traffic display and three 6x9 high resolution flight displays with moving map display.

In addition to mandates, there is a roll-out of new avionic technology that is specific to helicopters. And the new technology provides both an operational and economic value that sells itself onto the flight deck.

For example, consider enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS) and the recent change in Instrument Approach regulations FAR 91.176. This Part 91 rule, which also affects Part 27 and Part 29 helicopter ops, enables an EFVS-equipped operator to approach and land without natural vision. Further, if you are a Part 135 operator, you can dispatch when weather at the destination is below minimums and, once there, begin the approach – even in weather minimums below published DA/DH.

The FAA's recognition of the value of equivalent displays has also opened the door for head-worn transparent glasses that have the functionality of a head-up display (HUD).

These glasses provide a view of the flight instruments and can also display EFVS and a synthetic vision system (SVS) or combined vision system (CVS) – the integration of sensors or SVS together.

A practical concern is the operating limitation of an age and class of aircraft due to weather and visibility conditions. This is related to maintaining a glitch-free cockpit work tempo. With regards to helicopter safety and efficiency, the scrutiny of these numbers is helping in the value determination of technology such as head-worn displays, more integrated SVS and TAWS, and even advanced flight simulation.

Frasca's Airbus AS350 B3E H125 simulator has high resolution projectors offering a 200° horizontal and 70° vertical field of view. With a highly detailed database, NVG compatibility, and EFIS and vehicle and engine management displays, this new generation of simulators provides affordable and realistic training.

The recent development of HTAWS and SVS have become naturally integrated into 1 display, modernizing the primary flight display with both terrain features and additional safety to make inroads to more modern flightdecks.

The expansion of various SVS flight instrument solutions with a range of costs and features such as the flightpath marker, detailed obstacles and ADS-B traffic and weather, provide the pilot with a much more integrated, effective visual means to navigate the complexity of the flight.

Helo flight sims and improved safety with them

The United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) recommends the use of helicopter simulators as a solution to improvement safety in rotorcraft operations. For most professionals, the visit to the sim is for recurrence and to satisfy the insurance companies. Sim training also means more time away from home and more money being spent since costs rise anytime a new requirement is added.


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