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Collins’ Customer Experience Center includes a mock FVL aircraft and flight simulator for demonstrating avionics solutions. Collins Photo

Future Vertical Lift drives Collins investment in cutting-edge tech

By Elan Head | November 21, 2022

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 13 seconds.

As the U.S. Army prepares to downselect a Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), all eyes are on the airframers that could win this massive prize: Bell with its V-280 Valor tiltrotor or Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Boeing with their coaxial compound helicopter, Defiant X. Yet, the decision will also be highly consequential for the many suppliers who are vying for a piece of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) pie.

Collins’ Customer Experience Center includes a mock FVL aircraft and flight simulator for demonstrating avionics solutions. Collins Photo
Collins’ Customer Experience Center includes a mock FVL aircraft and flight simulator for demonstrating avionics solutions. Collins Photo

One of those suppliers is Collins Aerospace, whose investment in its Customer Experience Center in Huntsville, Alabama, illustrates the importance of FVL to the company. Collins will likely supply various systems and components for FLRAA (and the smaller Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, FARA) no matter which platform wins. But the company is leaning in hard to have a hand in shaping the technology onboard the next generation of Army airframes.

According to John Esposito, vice president of strategic pursuits, Collins has been investing in FVL technologies since the Army initiative kicked off with the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program a decade ago. “It’s been a journey for us, and it’s really an industry journey,” he said during a recent media event at the facility, which opened in October 2021. “But it’s the reason why we’ve created the center . . . because as we matured products, we needed a venue to be able to demonstrate those products.”

Collins has already scored some significant FVL wins across its expansive product portfolio. For example, in March, the company was selected by Sikorsky and Boeing to provide pilot, crew and troop seating for the Defiant X, as well as its Perigon computer for flight control and vehicle management. Offering 20 times the processing power of Collins’ existing flight control computers, Perigon also follows a modular open systems approach (MOSA) that will facilitate the integration of third-party applications and rapid upgrades.

In addition to the Customer Experience Center, Collins’ Huntsville facility serves as its MOSA Center of Excellence and a showcase for other MOSA products, including its Mosarc avionics architecture, RapidEdge Mission System for air-launched effects (ALE) and FlexLink adaptive connectivity solution. Collins recently entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Army to develop best practices for airworthiness certification of multicore processors, a collaboration that Collins said “will pave the way” in defining modular open systems approaches.

Collins Aerospace’s Customer Experience Center in Huntsville, Alabama, showcases some of the technology the company hopes will find a place in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift programs. Collins Photo
Collins Aerospace’s Customer Experience Center in Huntsville, Alabama, showcases some of the technology the company hopes will find a place in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift programs. Collins Photo

The center also displays some emerging products that could ultimately find broad applications in the helicopter industry. One of these is a structural element that incorporates carbon nanotube heater elements for de-icing and advanced fiber optics for sensing temperature and structural integrity. Collins envisions the technology being used to shape engine inlets and the leading edges of blades and wings, providing efficient de-icing capability at reduced weight and power compared to conventional systems.

“Typically, this type of a capability would be individual components: you’d have a heater element that would be bolted on to the outside of the actual structure; you’d have the sensing would be separate from that as well,” explained Harold Tiedeman, Collins’ chief engineer for FVL. “Doing it all together not only reduces the weight, because you can eliminate those individual interfaces . . . it also simplifies installation on the aircraft, so you have fewer parts to put and mount on the aircraft.”

Tiedeman said that Collins has already performed icing tests on the structure in a wind tunnel, proving “that the technology works and that the integration works and we can actually fabricate it.” By presenting it to customers at this early stage, Collins hopes to encourage the Army and its FLRAA competitors to consider new approaches to the design of aircraft and systems.

Collins is using its Customer Experience Center to obtain valuable feedback from the people who will ultimately be using its products. Collins Photo

“We’re kind of challenging the OEMs and the Army and the way they think, because today they have a paradigm for how they procure things: they buy an icing solution, they buy structures, they buy sensors, and they don’t do it together,” Tiedeman said. “As they’re looking at how they optimize their designs over time, this is where that stuff will come into play.”

A more mature product on display is Collins’ Hypergamut next-gen wash lighting system, which was unveiled at the Aircraft Interiors Exposition in Hamburg, Germany, in June. This color-optimized cabin lighting system will likely be used first in airliners, where Collins said it can help reduce jetlag and improve the appearance of fixtures and food. But the company is also excited about its potential for the military space and commercial markets such as helicopter emergency medical services.

The system uses additional color modules that can help troops sleep during long missions or wake fully prior to reaching their destination, the company said. It also provides true color rendering that could help medical personnel provide better and more rapid treatment during medevac/casevac missions.

“You can increase the amount of color to create more of a natural light that you’d see outdoors,” Tiedeman elaborated, explaining that brighter, more natural light in the cabin during medevac missions can make it easier for attending medical personnel to diagnose and treat a patient’s injuries. “It makes that job easier, it makes it more evident where the injuries are . . . and we’ve seen a lot of interest from customers in using it that way.”

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