Pilatus embedded trainer aircraft uses COTS embedded hardware for its mission system avionics

April 1, 2009
Designers at Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., needed to reduce the cost, size, and weight of the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop trainer's mission system avionics with a system that also brought life-cycle cost savings. They decided to upgrade with Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing hardware and avionics subsystems integration expertise to manage and control its sophisticated mission system.

By Bill Boxer, Jason Smith, and Jacob Sealander of Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing in Leesburg, Va.

Designers at Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., needed to reduce the cost, size, and weight of the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop trainer's mission system avionics with a system that also brought life-cycle cost savings. They decided to upgrade with Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing hardware and avionics subsystems integration expertise to manage and control its sophisticated mission system.

The Pilatus PC-21 is a next-generation turboprop trainer that provides an unmatched level of advanced technology, configuration flexibility, and life-cycle cost savings. With an intelligent avionics system that can be modified to suit the student pilot's phase of training, the PC-21 is significantly less costly than jet aircraft training alternatives.

The PC-21 boasts leading-edge aerodynamic performance and is designed to address the full range of training applications, including basic flying, advanced flying, full mission management and embedded simulation and emulation. It delivers an optimal environment to develop the capacity and skills for flying military jets.

Each cockpit is fitted with three 6 by x 8 inch active matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCD). The central liquid crystal display is the primary flight display (PFD). The bezel-mounted display buttons and up-front control panel (UFCP) buttons are used to select the navigation, mission, systems, and tactical data displayed on the two outer multi-function displays. Two 3AT secondary back-up displays alongside the UFCP show the primary flight display, systems and essential engine data.

The avionics feature an open-architecture mission computer with AMLCD monitors and separates critical and non-critical software to ensure that successful operation of the aircraft is not affected by failure of non-critical functionality.

All of the PC-21 cockpit displays and lighting systems are night vision NVIS class B compatible. The aircraft's forward cockpit is fitted with a head-up-display (HUD) that features a HUD symbol generator and the rear cockpit is equipped with a full color HUD repeater display showing the view from the HUD camera, overlaid with HUD symbology information. The front and rear cockpits can be fully decoupled, allowing the instructor access to training modes and sensor data unavailable to the trainee pilot.

Specific requirements

The PC-21 previously used a mission computer subsystem based on older technology integrated with 500 MHz Power PC G4 processors, each with 512 megabytes of memory for real-time, high refresh rate data processing. For their production model Pilatus required an improved subsystem with the increased processing power capable of driving the PC-21's advanced tandem multi-function displays, packaged in a reduced weight and more compact rugged enclosure.
The challenge

The PC-21's primary development mission computer, with its earlier generation processing power, large size, and limited roadmap for technology insertion led Pilatus to seek a high performance alternative that would satisfy all of the aircraft's requirements while lowering costs and halving the subsystem chassis space, weight and power.


Curtiss-Wright's compact, high performance 3U CompactPCI (cPCI) Packaged COTS (PCOTS) subsystem hardware and rugged systems integration expertise proved to be their ideal solution.

Curtiss-Wright's PCOTS subsystems reduce development cost and faster time to market, and have advantages that derive from the increased characterization and real-world data that accrue from the experience of multiple users of a particular COTS technology.

By providing Pilatus with an off-the-shelf subsystem product, the customer gains increased reliability and performance through the shared knowledge of all other users of the same platform. Traditionally, these COTS market ecosystems benefits have been viewed and understood from the single board computer level. Curtiss-Wright has elevated this strategy to go beyond card-level hardware, to consider the subsystem solution as not simply a discrete chassis and a set of boards, but instead as a coherent COTS product, a common solution, neither custom-spun nor exclusive to a unique program.

Pilatus identified the requirements for their Open Systems Mission Computer (OSMC), an integrated rugged mission computer subsystem, and Curtiss-Wright was able to satisfy these requirements with their MPMC-9350 PCOTS subsystem. This rugged 3U cPCI subsystem is designed and manufactured at the Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing facility in San Diego. Each MPMC-9350 integrates as many as four Curtiss-Wright conduction-cooled DCP-124/124P PowerPC-based single board computers (SBCs) and four mezzanine cards – an ARINC-429 PMC, a 1553 PMC, and two graphics PMCs – in a rugged, lightweight and environmentally sealed chassis.


The MPMC-9350 delivers numerous benefits to Pilatus. Many of these benefits derive from the customer's understanding of the limitations of a "point solution." The PCOTS approach enables the superset of customers for a particular COTS subsystem to gain the "genetic" improvement derived from collective knowledge and a wide user base.

The PC-21 cockpit not only provides the student with the appropriate tools to learn and develop relevant skills but also the perfect airborne 'classroom' for the instructor. The Embedded Simulation and Training suite provides: cross-platform cockpit emulation; weapons delivery simulation; stores management system; simulated radar and electronic warfare; datalink; and a tactical situational display.

The cockpit avionics can be 'split' so that the instructor can manipulate the student's display data. This allows the capabilities such as simulated non-flight safety critical system failures; data degradation; synthetic air-to-air radar target generation; synthetic electronic warfare generation; and datalink management

The MPMC-9350 is designed to meet the harsh environments of many military computing applications. Circuit cards installed in the sealed compact chassis (10.72"L x 5.11"W x 7.62"H) are completely isolated from external environmental conditions such as humidity, dust and sand. Cooling is accomplished by thermal transfer between the card edge of the conduction-cooled 3U cPCI cards and the side walls of the system enclosure. A rugged integrated fan provides the necessary cooling air across the walls. EMI filters and gaskets are employed for isolation from the effects of external interference and containment of possible emitted noise.

The MPMC-9350 has also been designed to meet or surpass DO-160E Environmental Conditions for Airborne Equipment. It has successfully passed numerous intensive environmental tests including Temperature, Altitude, Shock, Vibration, Fluid Susceptibility, Voltage Spikes, Electrostatic Discharge and more.

Standard MPMC-9350 configuration features

- Slot 1 is a 3U cPCI system controller slot driving the cPCI bus at 66 MHz/32-bit. It is populated with a PowerPC based DCP-124 SBC and supports two dual redundant 1553 channels with an optional DPMC-601 PMC module.

- Slot 2 is a PICMG 2.3 compliant slot wired for an ARINC-429 PMC on a processor or PMC carrier. 32 channels of ARINC-429 are provided with each channel individually selectable as in input or output.

- Slots 3 and 5 are PICMG 2.3 compliant and are wired for a Curtiss-Wright PMC-704/706 video card. Each PMC-704 video card provides two video output channels, either of which can be LVDS, DVI or VGA, and six video input channels that can capture two NTSC or RS-170 simultaneously. The video cards can be mounted on a PMC carrier or on a PowerPC SBC. (NOTE: the Pilatus variant of the MPMC-9350 uses PMC-706 cards and does not support the video inputs.)

-- Slot 4 is integrated for a generic 64-bit PMC on a PMC carrier or SBC, and supports custom variants.

The MPMC-9350's DCP-124P SBCs are variants of Curtiss-Wright's standard DCP-124 that have been designed as a PICMG 2.3-compliant peripheral-only processing card, thus providing access to all 64-bits of on-board PMC I/O, a level of I/O bandwidth not provided by many competing 3U systems. In addition to supporting the full PMC I/O, each SBC also features 2 Ethernet channels, 1 RS-232, 2 RS-422, and 1 USB 2.0 ports.

Custom variations

The MPMC-9350 can be ordered as an MCOTS (modified commercial off the shelf) product with a modified front panel connector set, modified backplane wiring, and/or modified card set designed specifically to meet a customer's exact needs. An Intel Core2 Duo-based variant is also available.

The MPMC-9350's Slot 4 has been wired for a generic 64-bit PMC and a PMC carrier or SBC. The SBC I/O is wired to the front panel connectors. The 64-bits of PMC I/O are available from the front panel I/O board and can also be wired to connectors in a custom configuration.

To lower costs for large volume orders the number of 1553 or ARINC-429 channels provided can be reduced. Also, if video input is not required, a non-capture PMC card variant may be used.

The MPMC-9350 family supports a selection of standard and optional I/O. Standard I/O includes Ethernet, RS-232 serial, RS-422 serial and DIO. Two dual redundant channels of MIL STD 1553 are supplied via a Curtiss-Wright PMC-601 PMC module. 32 channels of ARINC-429 can be provided via a PMC card with each channel individually selectable as Rx or Tx.

The main processing power of the PowerPC version of the MPMC-9350 is provided by up to four Freescale 7448 PowerPC-based DCP-124 and DCP-124P 3U cPCI SBCs. The DCP-124P peripheral-only processor is a variant of Curtiss-Wright's standard DCP-124 SBC and supports PMC I/O, dual Ethernet channels, and a USB 2.0, RS-232 and dual RS-422 ports.

The124P is designed for space constrained applications. Based on the Freescale PowerPC 7448 processor, the board runs at clock speeds of 1000 and 1200 MHz. At 1.2 GHz, the board executes an impressive 2773 Dhrystone Millions of Instructions per Second (DMIPS). To pack the greatest functionality into the smallest standard form factor possible, the 124P offers a full-speed onboard PMC site with unshared 64-bits of PMC I/O, 1 or 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports, up to 3 serial channels (1 x RS-232, 2 x RS-422/485), up to 8-bits Discrete Digital I/O, and a Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 port.

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