Honeywell flexes its muscles with aviation technology
Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix, Arizona, recently threw open its doors to Arabian Aerospace technology editor Steve Nichols, who was invited to view the company's current and future technologies that aim to make flight safer and easier.
Honeywell is proud of its history and even more proud of what it is bringing to the market over the next few years.
The chances are that, if you’ve flown on an aircraft, it had Honeywell technology on it, from auxiliary power units, engines, glass cockpits, advanced avionic safety systems and now broadband connectivity.
And it relishes telling you little-known facts.
Did you know, for example, that Honeywell has had systems and equipment flying on both the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station? Or that Captain Chesley B ‘Sully’ Sullenberger was only able to control his A320 aircraft and land on the Hudson River in New York after losing power from both engines by using hydraulic power from a Honeywell auxiliary power unit, which could be started in flight?
But Honeywell isn’t resting on its laurels. This year sees the launch of Inmarsat’s broadband Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band satellite system that is being enabled by Honeywell equipment. It is producing the two JetWave fuselage-mounted and tail-mounted antennas for GX and it says the connectivity will open up new markets that haven’t even been thought of yet.
Carl Esposito, Honeywell’s vice president strategy, marketing and product management, says it is working on supplemental type certifications (STCs) for 20 different aircraft types. “There isn’t a product in our portfolio that doesn’t or couldn’t have a connectivity component,” he added.
“GX opens up a whole new avenue for ideas. For example, we are working on ‘crowd sourcing’ the weather radar data from our RDR-4000 system.
“This could allow you to ‘see’ what the pilot in an aircraft 200 miles ahead of you is detecting, before you get to the same point.
“We are also working with manufacturers like Rolls-Royce and Gulfstream to see what real-time engine or other technical data could be transmitted back to the ground.
“This could be used for future fault detection or to help prepare ground crews before an aircraft lands.”
Honeywell’s GoDirect has a number of tablet-based applications available or in development, including My Maintainer, which offers maintenance crews a wireless link with the aircraft for diagnostics and in-flight reporting, and Flight Preview, which gives pilots the opportunity to ‘fly’ an approach before getting on the aircraft.
Honeywell takes future technology very seriously. It already offers its SmartView synthetic vision system, which fuses data from multiple sources with the mapping database from its enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS). The result is a pilot display that gives an “arcade-like” view of the world outside the aircraft, whatever the weather or visibility.
Coming up in synthetic vision systems (SVS) 2.0, currently set for launch in 2018, is a new 3D airport map upgrade that can help pilots navigate when they are on the ground.
Tom Lawler, Honeywell’s Primus Epic product line director, said: “We’ve already mapped 300 airports and plan to get that up to 500 by the time the system is certified in 2018. We expect to have up to 700 by the end of the decade.
“SmartView has taken the world by storm,” he added. “Once pilots have flown with SVS they don’t want to fly without it again.”
Honeywell also shows it isn’t a one-trick pony with its gas turbine engine designs – so much so that its compressor technology, honed using computation fluid dynamics software running on one of the world's biggest supercomputers, is used in the automotive sector to make turbocharged cars even more efficient and reliable.
The company’s work on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) continuous lower energy emissions and noise (CLEEN) programme is also looking at new combustors, fuels, components, coatings and seals for its engines.
Honeywell’s acquisition last year of software company, Aviaso, is also helping in the fields of fuel economy and emissions.
Aviaso’s software products gather data on aircraft usage and identify and communicate the ways airline customers can save on fuel consumption. Even single-digit per cent efficiency improvements can save airlines tens of millions of dollars.
Or what else? Well, what about the company’s new runway overrun alerting and awareness system (ROASS) that knows whether an aircraft is capable of safely landing on a runway and issues warnings if it isn’t? Try to land too fast or too steep on a short runway and its voice will alert you before it is too late.
Honeywell is also leading the field in new additive manufacturing technology, known more popularly as 3D printing.
The company has taken this to a whole new level, using electron beam and laser fusion technology to produce metal components and moulds.
The process of direct metal laser sintering, or powder-bed laser fusion, builds components a layer at a time, using a yttrium aluminium garnet (YAG) solid-state laser or high-power electron beam to weld and fuse microscopic metal particles to a computer-generated design.
The results look like cast or forged parts, but the level of fine detail that can be achieved verges on science fiction.
Donald Godfrey, a Honeywell engineering fellow, says it has spent millions developing the technology, but is now reaping the rewards.
“We can now prototype metal parts in days rather than months,” he said. “Or make intricate moulds for traditional metal castings by fusing silica.
“One recent casting project was completed in four days – previously that would have taken 10 months.”
Honeywell says it is just scratching the surface of what additive manufacturing can do and is furiously filing patents.
“The possibilities are only limited by our imagination,” said Godfrey. “We can now alter the porosity or density of just one small part of a metal component, or produce 20 different prototype parts, each with a slightly different electron beam signature, to see what works best.”
Honeywell sees itself using the technology for producing non-safety critical, non-rotating new parts. But it has also successfully used the system to repair wear on the edge of a gas turbine blade.
“This technology is only a few years old and is developing all the time. Who knows what we will be able to do in 20 years,” mused Godfrey.
Some of Honeywell’s other research work looks like it belongs in a Star Wars movie. How about thought-controlled flight, where your brain waves are monitored to decide if you want to turn or climb? Honeywell already has it working.
Or speech recognition systems that can understand air traffic control radio commands and display them on an iPad? Yes, that too is already working – with uncanny accuracy.
Then there’s software modelling to predict what the impact of a sonic boom from future supersonic aircraft would be on the ground so that pilots could avoid built-up areas or slow down to minimise their impact?
The difficulty with writing this feature has not been deciding what to put in, but what to leave out.
Honeywell is also pushing the boundaries of gas turbine design, operating metal parts beyond the point at which they should melt. Craig Balls, VP engineering, Honeywell Transportation said it uses 1,000 degree Fahrenheit (538 degrees C) air to cool the turbine.
Running a gas turbine at very high temperatures makes it the most efficient, but NOX emissions can then be worse. Hence, Honeywell is doing even more research into advanced, alternative fuels and combustion processes to minimise emissions.
But the last word is a look at how future automotive technology could spill back into the aerospace sector. Honeywell has designed a new turbo-powered hydrogen pump that is being used in a fuel cell aboard the new five-seat Honda Clarity electric car. The car may have a range of 300 miles and be capable of being refuelled in just three-five minutes.
The technology could see small hydrogen fuel cells being used on business aircraft instead of batteries.
The truth is, at the moment the company doesn’t know whether it is feasible or desirable. But that isn’t stopping it from taking a good look, with its “what if” approach to aerospace technology development.