Patrick Durrant | Canberra
ADM joined the last flight in a series conducted by Honeywell Aerospace as part of an around the world tour which commenced with the Paris Air Show in May.
The purpose of the demonstration, conducted on Honeywell's own Boeing 757 test aircraft (the fifth 757 to be commercially delivered) flying from Canberra's RAAF Base Fairbairn, was to highlight the inflight connectivity of it's JetWave satellite communications technology. Guests included RAAF officers from the Plan Jericho team as well as representatives from some major primes and regulatory bodies.
The aircraft can give you the same capability as what you have at your desk
The internet services demonstrated during the hour-long flight represent a significant step change from what has been previously available. Honeywell's JetWave is the first satcom solution to connect to Inmarsat's high-speed Ka-band GlobalXpress (GX) network, known as GX Aviation. Airlines such as Lufthansa have already commenced installing the systems on their aircraft.
A Ka band steerable antenna is mounted on the crown of the aircraft and below it are two receivers which allow tracking of two I-5 spot beams simultaneously (where the beams overlap), providing an uninterrupted connection.
Credit: Honeywell Aerospace
The JetWave inverters convert the Ka feed into the L-band for the internal aircraft segment which allows standard co-axial cable to be used rather than a long wave guide pipe.
Four small line replaceable units (LRUs) were snugly installed within a 19-inch wide test rack. These consisted of a modem manager and a network switch (typically mounted in the avionics bay), an electronics box for steering the antenna and a memory device.
Credit: ADM Patrick Durrant
Depending on the size of the aircraft, either one or multiple routers are required to establish the WiFi footprint.
During the flight, speeds of between 40 to 50 Mbps were observed, with applications such as FaceTime (my wife was able to chat with the pilots!) experiencing a seamless connection.
The inflight internet connectivity offered by the system opens up many applications in both the commercial and defence contexts.
Preventative maintenance, cockpit functions such as real-time weather tracking, the provision of a common operating picture (COP) for embarked personnel and video conferencing are just some of the benefits that were outlined by Honeywell's senior area sales manager Stew Chapman.
“The Smart APU is one example in use by the ADF on the KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transports (MRTTs). With 27 sensors contained within the unit, these can be interrogated in flight and so now, rather than waiting for the part to fail, a technician can be standing by on the ground with the affected LRU element of that APU, so when the aircraft lands it can be changed out quickly without impacting heavily on the aircraft's availability.”
Chapman said many of the commercially available aircraft in use with the ADF, such as the MRTTs and the B737- BBJs, already had the technology to generate the vast amounts of data that could be interpreted for preventative maintenance.
“What does the Air Force want to do with that information they are now getting? It's all there to be exploited.”
Honeywell's 3D weather radar data can now be live-streamed from one aircraft to another or to the ground.
“With regard to a COP, all of a sudden your battlespace becomes a 3D element – it's no longer a map on a table – and variables like weather and target tracks can also be introduced into it,” Chapman said.
Other than the 1Mb link they have with Viper (a roll-on, roll-off highspeed SATCOM terminal currently deployed on C-17s), ADF Special Forces currently don't experience an environment where high definition video imagery can be streamed to them inflight.
“The aircraft can give you the same capability as what you have at your desk,” Chapman said. During a previous trip a senior RAAF officer conducted a 'Type 1' encrypted conference call into 'the pit' in Defence's Operations Room in Canberra.
High speed data transmissions can also be achieved for helicopters thanks to an interleaver waveform that compensates for rotor-blade blockage. Chapman indicated that helicopter operators in the region, particularly those involved with Emergerncy Medical Services (EMS), are looking at that capability because the ability to transmit live video and medical data to a doctor back at a hospital is now a reality. The application for defence MEDEVAC operations is also clear.