Trusted innovation

AvatarBen Forrest | October 29, 2020

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 27 seconds.

Astronautics Corporation is a leading provider of avionics displays and systems, committed to keeping aircraft operating longer with enhanced capabilities at a fraction of the cost of new.

If you’ve flown a U.S. military aircraft in the last 60 years, there’s a good chance you’ve relied upon attitude director and horizontal situation indicators from Astronautics Corporation. 

Virtually every U.S. military platform has Astronautics instruments on board, but most pilots are likely unaware they were designed and manufactured by this midsized, privately-owned company from just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The company traces its roots back to 1959, when brother-and-sister leadership team Nathaniel Zelazo and Norma Paige helped the U.S. government achieve its ambitions in the Space Race that eventually put American astronauts on the moon. 

“Astronautics really made its name by designing, building and supporting highly complex and reliable, mechanical attitude and heading indicators for essentially every single military aircraft out there,” said Davis Chappins, product line manager for the company’s AFI4700 RoadRunner Electronic Flight Instrument (EFI) system. 

Today, the company’s displays, integrated systems and secure connectivity products are forward and retrofit solutions for major original equipment manufacturers. In total, Astronautics has installed more than 150,000 of its branded instruments on both civil and military aircraft.

“Our tagline is, Trusted Innovation,” said Mary Loomis, communications director at Astronautics. “And we are a supplier that our customers do trust. We want to be able to help them solve whatever their problems, especially the tough ones.”

Astronautics has also developed a virtual RoadRunner demonstration that allows customers to view its capabilities without an on-site visit. 

Astronautics’ latest innovation is the AFI4700 RoadRunner, a sleek and modern, form-fit-function manufacturer’s replacement for five-inch electromechanical attitude director indicator (ADI) and horizontal situation indicator (HSI) primary flight displays — as well as a replacement for first-generation EFI systems. 

“Our electromechanical displays are highly reliable, as evidenced by the number of aircraft still flying with them; however, the repair components are becoming increasingly difficult to source, and that means higher repair costs,” said Dan Stearns, sales and business development manager for the RoadRunner.

“RoadRunner was born out of a desire to provide customers with an easy and affordable way to incrementally upgrade their legacy cockpits with a modern solution that adds value. And there’s no panel modification required. You use the same panel and the same cutouts, installing the RoadRunner in the old instruments’ spots exactly.” 

Affordability is another major selling point. The RoadRunner provides operators with a modern EFI system at a price that’s easier to justify. While major glass cockpit upgrades can cost as much as $500,000, a RoadRunner upgrade costs significantly less. It provides a cost-effective approach to extending the life of an aircraft while adding modern capabilities and a path for future growth.

Another key feature is its ability to maximize mission capability with WAAS, LPV and RNAV. Pilots can view GPS, GPS flight track map, onboard weather radar, TAWS and lightning detection on the new primary flight display. The RoadRunner also provides improved safety and situational awareness with glare-free, flat-glass, multicolor displays, and reduces workload with approved single-pilot IFR capability that is also NVIS-compatible.

Installations can take place during a regular maintenance interval to minimize aircraft downtime, with no more than a week on-ground, in most cases. With the RoadRunner, pilots can continue flying intuitively with familiar controls that are easy to use, and it’s essentially future-proof, with field-ADS-B, SynVis, and embedded HTAWS upgrades planned. 

“It’s compatible with basically everything in the market,” said Chappins. “The display was designed with several analog and digital inputs to accommodate old and new aircraft installs.”

The RoadRunner has supplemental type certificates (STCs) on the Leonardo AW109, Bell 212/412 and Sikorsky S-61 helicopters and the Casa 212 fixed-wing aircraft. An STC for the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk is in progress. This EFI system can fly in the toughest environments on the broadest number of platforms. It has Part 23/25/27/29 certification; DO-160G, DO-178C, and DO-254 DAL A design assurance; and TSO C209, C3e and C165a.

RoadRunner installations take place within Astronautics’ global dealer network. “We wanted to make it easy for operators to use their local avionics provider for a convenient install,” said Dan Stearns. “We continue to look for dealers that want to work on additional RoadRunner STCs and installation kits for other platforms.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Astronautics has also developed a virtual RoadRunner demonstration that allows customers to view its capabilities without an on-site visit. The demonstration takes place live online, with a video feed connected to a flight simulator customized with the client’s local airport. 

“We can tailor this demo to maintenance directors, flight crews, finance and operations influencers, or business development,” said Chappins. “And the best part is we can have a conversation about the RoadRunner — answering the questions that customers can’t glean from reading a brochure.” 

Ultimately, the RoadRunner is a low-risk solution to a problem operators can’t avoid forever. Old instruments are bound to break down over time, and it’s hard to justify upgrading an entire instrument panel on legacy airframes that may only be worth $200,000 as a whole.

“We’re asking them to consider it as a cost-effective alternative,” said Stearns. “Just like with a cellphone, obsolescence in the cockpit puts operators at a significant disadvantage. They risk getting left behind from new technology that will make their flying safer and easier. That’s why an upgrade is crucial.”

Stearns added, “Over the last 60 years, customers have put their trust in Astronautics. We want to give them what they need at a price they can afford — be it for EMS, firefighting, VIP transport, or paramilitary missions. We’re here for them now, just as we always have been.”

To schedule a virtual demo, learn more about the RoadRunner’s features, or find a dealer, contact: Dan Stearns, [email protected]


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