Military avionics displays embrace commercial technology, but ruggedization challenges remain

By John McHale

Designers of avionics displays are using new commercial technology, such as LED (light emitting diode) and active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED), for military aircraft cockpits, yet they experience challenges in manufacturing rugged displays for extreme environments.

Mature technologies such as liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are "very mature and barriers to entry are low -- with lots of new players saturating the market, says Gregory Walters, marketing manager of crew interface products at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix. "However, technological differentiators still exist in LED backlighting; lower cost, lower power consumption, higher reliability (almost 10 times), redundancy: no single bulb failure can shutdown the backlight.

"Sequential backlighting is next on the horizon -- only illuminating those LEDs that you need -- providing even lower power," Walters adds.

Another trend among military avionics integrators "is the use of large area displays with night vision imaging system (NVIS) touch screens in fighter cockpits," says Tim Cantrell, vice president of Avionics North America at Barco in Rancho Cordova, Calif. "We offer the only NVIS compliant infrared touch screen. The IR technology does not degrade the optical performance of the display as do some other touch screen technologies.

"AMOLED is the disruptive technology -- low volume, low power, no backlight needed, flexible for conformal display surfaces," Walters says. "However, it is still three to five years before they are rugged enough for military applications. Also nothing very large has been fielded yet (4 or 5 inches is the current size with nothing close to 15 inches yet). "

The primary application for AMOLED technology is cell phone usage right now, Walters adds.

In the meantime Walters says avionics integrators want high luminance (brightness); no reflective glare especially for bubble canopies; low power consumption; high reliability; reduced line replaceable unit (LRU) size to make a flat panel display actually flat; obsolescence mitigation; plug and play integration; intuitive information displayed for reduced pilot workload; significant data processing; and sharing so operators can know where the bad guys are; and touch screen drag and zoom capability with gloves on.

All the new technology is exciting but ruggedization headaches remain.

"It is more difficult to harden a display today because of the shrinking avionics and defense market in relation to the civilian market," says Jim Zentner, manager of business development at Astronautics in Milwaukee. "Military hardware does not drive innovation as much as the commercial realm and does not dictate the environmental or electromagnetic interference (EMI) requirements that today's electronic components are built to. Getting components that can be used in these applications is becoming more of a challenge as the iPod world takes over.


Astronautics latest display is a civil and military certified 6-by-8-inch multi-function color display (MFCD), Zentner says. It uses LED NVIS compliant backlight, accepts video inputs (via RS-170), and has a 1.3 GHz Intel Atom processor with aircraft interfaces and bezels available. It is also certified to the DO-160F standard for civil avionics certification, he adds.

The rugged mil-spec monitor (MSM) series from Digital Systems Engineering (DSE) are on such Air Force programs as B-52 bomber. The display is designed to operate under the extreme environments found in high performance jet aircraft, off-road, and tracked vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) applications, marine, and submarine vessels. DSE's displays are housed in an IP67/NEMA 6P sealed, milled billet aluminum enclosure. It is light weight and watertight, with sealed, military-grade connectors.

Boeing officials selected the DuraVIS 3006 and DuraVIS 4300 from Parvus in Salt Lake City to serve as the flight test display (FTD) and the instrumentation crew station control panel (ICCP) respectively for the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. T

The display system is a combination of the Parvus DuraCOR mission computer with a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) multi-function display. The system will present flight, sensor, mapping, advisory, and other information for the P-8A. Qualified to MIL-STD-810F, MIL-STD-704E and MIL-STD-461E standards, the DuraVIS 4300 offers low-temperature operation (-20C) and resistance to shock and vibration profiles that will be experienced by the P-8A.

Company listing

Aspen Avionics
Albuquerque, N.M.
www.aspenavionics.com

Astronautics
Milwaukee
www.astronautics.com

Avidyne Corp.
Lincoln, Mass.
www.avidyne.com

BAE Systems
Farnborough, England
www.baesystems.com

Barco
Rancho Cordova, Calif.
www.barco.com

Digital Systems Engineering
Scottsdale, Ariz.
www.digitalsys.com

Esterline CMC Electronics
Ville Saint-Laurent, Quebec
www.cmcelectronics.ca

Flight Display Systems
Aplharetta Ga.
www.flightdisplay.com

GE Aviation
Cincinnati
www.geae.com

Honeywell Aerospace
Phoenix
www.honeywell.com

Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S)
Exton, Pa.
www.innovative-ss.com

Rockwell Collins
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
www.rockwellcollins.com

Parvus
Salt Lake City
www.parvus.com

Planar
Beaverton, Ore.
www.planar.com

Sagem Avionics
Grand Prairie, Texas
www.sagemavionics.com

Terma A/S
Lystrup, Denmark
www.terma.com

Thales
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
www.thalesgroup.com

Universal Avionics
Tucson, Ariz.
www.uasc.com

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