The techonology of helicopter avionics system has developed rapidly, supporting the enhancement of rotorcraft operations. The helicopter avionic systems which will be installed in futre helicopters are going to be a critical part of meeting increasingly operational needs. New developments are probable to have a great impact on future rotorcraft operations as well as capacity in some areas, including:
The core helicopter avionics system with the introduction of integrated modular avionics technology; Helicopter cockpits with increased emphasis on integrated human centred design; Day/night all-weather systems fusing information from databases and sensors to improve the pilot's situation awareness; and Helicopter flight control systems, with widespread adoption of fly-by-wire, and the introduction of enhanced control augmentation.
For the next generation of new and updated products we must reduce the cost and lead time of the helicopter avionics systems whilst further increasing capability and providing more flexibility to allow in-service modifications and updates. It is widely accepted throughout the avionics industry that the key to reducing costs and lead times for military avionics systems is the introduction of open architectures and re-usable, modular hardware and software. The introduction of open standards and modularity will help to reduce development cost and timescales (by re-use of modules), reduce production costs (by standardising across a wider range of aircraft types) and reduce in-service support costs (by reducing helicopter spares holdings and minimising second line helicopter maintenance). At the heart of this new generation of systems will be a series of data networks, linking modules to sensors, displays and actuators as well as to each other. These networks will operate at far higher speeds than those in current systems and fibre-optic implementation may therefore be inevitable.
Architectures supporting open, modular systems will allow greater exchange of data between system elements, paving the way for higher levels of data fusion to achieve maximum performance from a given suite of aerospace sensors. As mission requirements have become more severe and operations have been extended into increasingly difficult environments, the demands on the crew have risen dramatically. The new man-machine interface technologies provide an enormous opportunity for facilitating the interaction between the crew and the rest of the system. Further advances in technology, such as larger displays and virtual helicopter cockpit displays, will also provide opportunities for improving crew interaction with the vehicle and its systems, paving the way for further increases in operational capability. A major consideration which must be addressed by prime contractors when proposing to introduce many of these new technolgies into rotorcraft systems is that of establishing the merits of each technology; if benefits cannot be demonstrated in quantifiable terms, then there is little prospect for the required investment being made available. In some cases, quantification of the benefits is relatively straightforward, for example in prediction of weight savings, maintainability improvements, etc. However, where the benefits arise mainly in the areas of helicopter/mission system capability, it can be much more difficult to show to what extent an improvement in capability results in an operational benefit.
The use of synthetic environments to allow simulation of representative battlefield scenarios provides a potential solution to this problem. Simulation technology now allows high fidelity representation of an individual aircraft's characteristics and environment, and this is being combined with the latest Information Technology developments to allow simulation facilities to be linked together to form the multi-player scenarios of the real battlefield. This approach to simulation not only allows a more representative evaluation of the capability of a new technology at an early stage in the development process, but allows the method of using a new technology or capability to be optimised before the quantitative evaluation of the merits is performed. This avoids the weakness of conventional operational analysis, which tends to be constrained by the use of tactics based on current technology capability. Synthetic environments and distributed interactive simulation can therefore be seen as taking increasing importance in the processes of selecting and developing helicopter avionics and systems technologies, and defining required system performance for future rotorcraft. Advanced Rotorcraft Configurations - The Advanced Compound Helicopter The concept of compounding seeks to redress limitations encountered in current helicopters by enhancing basic, fundamental, vehicle parameters. Prominent amongst these are high speed values of Lift to Drag ratio, propulsive efficiency, agility and vibration. Improvements in these quantities lead directly to the prospect of higher productivity, superior operational effectiveness and reduced maintenance. These in turn offer improved competitiveness and the opportunity to expand the range of helicopter applications.