COTS electronics increasing reliability in HUDs for F-14B, JSF

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. — Designers at Flight Visions Inc. are adapting head up displays (HUDs) and mission processors originally developed for commercial aviation to military aircraft.

By John Rhea

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. — Designers at Flight Visions Inc. are adapting head up displays (HUDs) and mission processors originally developed for commercial aviation to military aircraft.

The Sugar Grove, Ill., company is combining proprietary optical components and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) electronic components such as microprocessors for military aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and upgrades of the U.S. Navy`s F-14B Tomcat fighter aircraft — and increasing reliability in the process.

The systems are achieving mean time between failure rates of 3,000 to 3,500 hours, more than 10 times the level of 200 to 250 hours for the HUDs on the U.S. Air Force`s F-16 fighter, says Robert Atac, president of Flight Visions.

The system called Sparrow Hawk is "an excellent example of tailored COTS technology utilized to solve a critical maintenance challenge for the Navy," says Frank Wagner, F-14 program manager at Northrop Grumman Corp. in Bethpage, N.Y.

Wagner projects mean time between maintenance action, for example, to increase from 11 hours to 750 hours.

Last year Flight Visions won a $9 million contract to deliver 82 of the Sparrow Hawk units, which include the HUD, the Motorola 68040 microprocessor-based mission computer, and control panel, to Northrop Grumman.

Also last year the company sold seven units of the more expensive Night Hawk HUD ($80,000 vs. $60,000 in production) to Lockheed Martin for flight testing in the JSF at that company`s Palmdale, Calif., and Dallas-Fort Worth facilities

Lockheed Martin officials now are proposing the same system to upgrade the U.S. Air Force`s C-130 cargo aircraft.

The commonality is based on the Flight Visions original work for the general aviation market using the standard MIL-STD 1553B and ARINC 429 databuses and the Wind River VxWorks operating system. The architecture also permits upgrading to the Motorola PowerPC or any other advanced microprocessor.

Flight Visions engineers developed the top-of-the-line Night Hawk specifically for the JSF, Atac says. The lower cost ($60,000 vs. $80,000 each in production) Sparrow Hawk unit in the F-14B comes from systems installed in such non-military aircraft as the Falcon 50, Gulf Stream 3 and 4, LearJet 55, and Bell 230 helicopter.

Another critical factor is weight, particularly in the short takeoff and vertically landing JSF. Atac relates that Lockheed Martin had originally given him an upper limit of 50 pounds. The unit came in at 25 pounds.

Lockheed Martin experts are conducting tests to determine that the units will fit into the cockpit in preparation for flight tests and eventually production of JSF beginning in 2008, Atac adds.

Flight Visions experts use mostly ruggedized COTS components intended to withstand severe environments, such as the desert, for their commercial customers. By conducting environmental and electromagnetic tests to achieve the levels of MIL-STD-810E and 461 and 462D, this tech- nology is now available to military users.

Another potential application is in commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Flight Visions representatives have been talking to Platforms International Corp. in Los Angeles about putting their mission computers in UAVs being designed as relay platforms for citywide cellular phone systems — "a poor man`s Iridium," as Atac describes it.

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