A text from your turboshaft

March 12, 2013

Vegas skyline Honeywell Senior Test Pilot Steve Kilbourne showed off his company’s Sky Connect Tracker III and other products over Las Vegas during Heli-Expo.

The alert sounded just as the sun sank to the top of the ridgeline and the mountains crept higher in the windscreen: “Caution, terrain.”

The Eurocopter AS350BA continues westward and the message becomes more forceful: “Warning, terrain.” Honeywell Senior Test Pilot Steve Kilbourne turned right to an area of lower terrain. The warnings subsided, the area ahead on the screen turned green, and the Las Vegas skyline came into view out of the right window. The experimental helicopter that serves as a test bed for Honeywell Aerospace has about 25 pieces of the company’s equipment installed for testing, Kilbourne had explained in the preflight briefing. Las Vegas, the site of Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo, provided an opportunity to demonstrate the company’s terrain awareness and warning system March 4, but the primary purpose of this flight was to show off an upgrade to Honeywell’s Sky Connect Tracker, a system that offers automated tracking, text messaging, and voice communications over the Iridium satellite network.

vegas The mountains to the west of Las Vegas trigger an aural alert.

New to Sky Connect Tracker III is integration with a maintenance monitoring system for helicopters that gives instant alerts to ground personnel when maintenance is needed. Honeywell’s Zing Health and Usage Monitoring System monitors flight data and vibrations using sensors at points throughout the drivetrain; maintenance crews download the information after each flight and can analyze trends to perform preventive maintenance before a problem arises. With the integration with Sky Connect Tracker III, an operator can opt to receive up to 28 alerts on issues requiring inspection or repair, including high vibrations in various locations or types of rotor unbalance.

Kilbourne said the transmission of these short-burst data messages can help reduce costly down time for operators of helicopter fleets. “It will allow the maintenance department to know if there’s anything wrong with the aircraft before it gets on the ground,” he said.

On this flight, Kilbourne demonstrated Sky Connect’s texting capability by sending a message back to his colleagues on the ground. One can type the entire message, choose from canned messages, or enter information into a form. Kilbourne chose the latter to report that he was departing with two passengers.

“Copy,” Honeywell’s Kent Morris responded.

Iridium, the communications satellite network behind such handheld personal tracking devices as Spidertracks and DeLorme inReach, offers global communications and tracking coverage. Honeywell’s product allows pilots and dispatchers to communicate brief messages and relays real-time tracking information on a fleet of aircraft, valuable for operators flying in low-communications-coverage areas, such as oil companies operating offshore. Sky Connect Tracker offers simultaneous texting and tracking capabilities, even during voice calls, the company said; and the tracking function allows medevac operators, which are often compensated according to “loaded miles flown,” to track their mileage more accurately.