Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Army likes contractors who are on time and on budget

Posted by John McHale
The headline for this blog may state the obvious, but unfortunately defense prime contractors are not always able to meet those lofty goals -- on time and on budget. Note the cancellations of programs such as Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) -- cancelled in 2008 for what the Army said were cost overruns and other issues.

However, there are some contractors who do hit their targets, and the Army is not shy about issuing their praise for these efforts such as the Security & Support Mission Equipment Package (MEP) modification to the UH-72A Lakota, led by EADS North America in Arlington, Va. This MEP included new avionics systems and other equipment.

"EADS North America has never missed a delivery to the Army on this program," Lt. Col. Dave Bristol, product manager for Lakota helicopters at Redstone Arsenal told me during an interview I was doing on helicopter avionics upgrades. "They've done a great job of being on time if not early, which is unheard of in a program."

For more on the Lakota upgrade read "Army looks to helicopter avionics upgrades and technology insertion in the absence of new rotorcraft programs."

In addition to EADS North America Bristol also noted the "hard work" of the National Guard Bureau, Project Executive Office Aviation, American Eurocopter, and other suppliers.

Bristol's enthusiasm for EADS North America made me think back to 2008, when I was at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual meeting in Washington. It was right around when the ARH was cancelled and you could sense the frustration and disappointment of Army Aviation officials over the program's failures.

That's why it was nice to hear Bristol's comments. I hope it's a recurring trend. The country could use a new helicopter platform -- even though it will take ten years at least from start to finish.

The Lakota's success certainly bodes well for EADS North America too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Managing thermals in Army helicopter cockpits

Posted by John McHale
Managing thermals in avionics is a big challenge in the OH-58F Kiowa Warrior upgrade, says Lt. Col. Scott Rauer, product manager, Kiowa Warrior Program Executive Office at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. Unlike the Apache helicopter, which has a dedicated cooling system, "my two main boxes are clustered together where they are open to ambient air and operating in hot environments."

Rauer made his comments to me during interviews for an article I was writing on helicopter avionics. For more on that interview read "Army looks to helicopter avionics upgrades and technology insertion in the absence of new rotorcraft programs."

"The new smaller boxes are better at thermal management and we've also noticed a trend toward more thermally efficient electronics at the board and chip level," Rauer says.

It can take quite a bit of problem solving as these aircraft are operatign in very hot environments with limited space in the cockpit, Rauer says. In one case "we are designing a box where the exhaust from one box blows to the intake of another box -- to help keep it cool. It's delicate jigsaw puzzle."

Engineers at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, say creative thinking is necessary as the new processors are generating so much more heat. For one program Rockwell Collins helped manage the thermals on a display system by taking advantage of light emitting diode (LED) power efficiencies for the backlighting, which helped reduce the overall temperature of the system, says Dan Toy, principal marketing manager in mobility and rotary wing business area at Rockwell Collins.

Investing in filters, compensators, and unique optics can help minimize the power draw from a lighting source, Toy adds. "We are constantly making sure we have the appropriate solution."

Even though processors are getting power hungry you can do a lot more in single processor than ever before, says Steve Edwards, chief technology officer for Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing in Leesburg, Va. "If we can cool a module, you may have less power at the platform level."

Some vendors will allow users to change clock speeds to reduce power on Intel chips, Edwards continues. If the application does not need to do full-up processing, the clock speed adjustment will enable them to throttle back and reduce power voltage on the chip, he adds.

Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems in Littleton, Mass., has a new technology line called CoolWall that is available in a 3U form factor and ideal for applications such as helicopter avionics or unmanned aerial vehicles, Edwards says. This technology is based on a proprietary mixture of metal composite materials, and provides the ability to thermally manage high-power payloads in multiprocessing and digital signal processing (DSP) applications.

It came from Curtiss-Wright's acquisition of rugged enclosure and chassis designer Hybricon, he adds.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Army still exploring synthetic vision technology

Posted by John McHale
During interviews for a story I was writing on Army helicopter avionics for our February issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics the topic of synthetic vision came up while speaking with Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix. Both companies are designing synthetic vision systems for commercial aviation.

I didn't use the synthetic vision part in the feature as it is not a requirement for any current Army rotorcraft avionics upgrades, but the Army is exploring the technology according to Rockwell Collins and Honeywell.

For more on Army helicopter avionics upgrades read "Army looks to helicopter avionics upgrades and technology insertion in the absence of new rotorcraft programs."

"We are working on synthetic vision technology" with the Army and how that could be integrated into the Common Avionics Architecture System (CASS) program, says Boe Svatek, programs manager for advanced rotorcraft programs at Rockwell Collins,

For more on the CAAS program read "Army uses open-systems standards for helicopter avionics."

Due to the current funding environment, it is hard for the Army to justify an upgrade to synthetic vision right now, he says.

Rockwell Collins engineers are looking to enhance the image resolution for helicopter operations, Svatek says.

"What's been done in synthetic vision to date has been for fixed wing aircraft," Svatek says. "We want to make it more effective for rotorcraft."

Synthetic vision is still a little bit ahead of its time, he adds.

Honeywell's synthetic vision technology was used in a DARPA program called Sandblaster with Sikorsky in stratford, Conn., as the prime contractor, says Lonny Rakes, director of business development for U.S. Army programs at Honeywell. The system took sensor information from a millimeter wave sensor from Sierra Nevada in Sparks, Nev., and integrated it with a synthetic terrain view, he adds.

The sensor data blended with the synthetic vision enabled pilots to have a view outside the cockpit in degraded visual environments such as those caused by sand or dust, Rakes says.

Sandblaster was completed successfully and Honeywell is involved in a follow-on contract to explore the problem further, Rakes says. He declined to comment on the specifics of the follow-on contract.