Peter J. Gundermann, President and Chief Executive Officer
Rotorcrafts have always been an exciting aspect of the aviation industry. Best suited for hovering and vertical flight situations, rotorcrafts are naturally the best choice for destinations that involve a tight landing or takeoff spot. From dropping into an active volcano in Hawaii to landing on the Great Barrier Reef, the technology is designed for extreme adventures into the world’s most remote areas. As the pandemic continues to impose travel restrictions, many wealthy adventurers have taken a liking to helicopters for quick trips and more exotic voyages. Traveling by helicopter also avoids crowds and public airports, creating seamless social distancing. However, vertical flight comes with its list of inefficiencies, limiting the amount of weight that rotorcrafts can carry, how fast it can move, and how far it can fly.
Despite the limitations, the military has been one of the earliest adopters of the technology and envisions a grander scheme of things for its rotorcrafts. In fact, the U.S. Army is leading what looks to be the most extensive rotorcraft program in history, called Future Vertical Lift (FVL). In an attempt to combine the speed, efficiency, and range of horizontal flight with the agility of vertical flight, the past few decades have witnessed hundreds of different design proposals that have experimented with all possible variations of wings and rotors in number, relative size, and tilting capability. To this end, New York-based Astronics Corporation (NASDAQ: ATRO) has been serving global customers as the rotorcraft industry’s partner for innovative power, lighting, and safety equipment. Experienced with military and commercial rotorcraft programs, the company offers a set of proven solutions that enhance the safety, performance, and cost-effectiveness of its clients’ rotorcraft.
Founded in 1968, Astronics Corporation serves the world’s aerospace, defense, and other mission-critical industries with proven, innovative technology solutions. The company works side-by-side with customers, integrating its array of power, connectivity, lighting, structure, interior, and test technologies to solve complex challenges. “Even while the commercial aerospace industry continues to be challenged, we had sequential improvement in Aerospace bookings. We were cash positive in the fourth quarter of 2020, generating $5.8 million in cash from operations reflecting the impact of our restructuring efforts,” said Peter J. Gundermann, President and Chief Executive Officer of Astronics Corporation.
Clients count on Astronics when it comes to rugged-duty solutions combined with the dependability of a long-term supplier already in the system. Working with its clients at every step, the company customizes power, lighting, safety, and other solutions to fit the client’s program’s unique requirements. Also, Astronics offers complete design and integration services, including joint development processes (JDP) for military customers.
Making Enhanced Vision Systems a Reality
When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a research project to study operational concepts for the use of enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS) in helicopters, Astronics was quick to pounce upon the opportunity. The FAA designed the study to develop a basis for the possible application of enhanced vision systems in helicopters flying into heliports. While EFVS rules exist for approaches to runways at airports, similar regulations for EFVS do not exist for helicopters flying to onshore or offshore helipads at heliports.
While assisting the FAA with the project, Astronics provided them with a Max-Viz 1500 and a Max-Viz 2300 Enhanced Vision System (EVS) for integration onto the Sikorsky S-76 medium-size commercial utility helicopter test aircraft. The Astronics Max-Viz EVS sensors will be used in-flight tests and data acquisition for EVS and EFVS implementation. While the Max- Viz 1500 sensor will provide baseline testing, the installation of the Max-Viz 2300 will follow for observation of LED lighting on the blended high-resolution, long-wave infrared image.
Following the study, Astronics received approval from the U.S. and Canada for its Max-Viz 1400 and 1200 EVS for Airbus Helicopter’s AS350 Écureuil.
In cooperation with AVIO dg in Calgary, Canada, Astronics obtained the Supplemental Type Certificates for its Max Viz 1400 and 1200 EVS from the U.S. FAA and the Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) for approved models, which are the Airbus Écureuil AS350B, AS350B1, AS350B2, AS350B3, AS350BA, and AS350BD. The company’s Max-Viz EVS provides improved safety through enhanced vision, enabling pilots to see more precisely in adverse weather conditions, such as haze, smoke, smog, and light fog, even on the darkest night. Also, pilots can detect and avoid clouds for a smoother ride. While landing, pilots using the Max- Viz EVS can identify the runway and view the terrain clearly to avoid wildlife and unlit obstructions.
Lighting Innovations for the Next-Gen Rotorcrafts
For decades, rotorcraft lighting solutions from Astronics Luminescent Systems Inc. (LSI) have addressed both the reliability and night vision imaging systems (NVIS) compatibility requirements of advanced rotorcraft. Rotorcraft are required to work in some of the most challenging environments, and a simple light failure can cause increased workload on a pilot and even halt a mission due to regulatory requirements. A pilot flying in the dark needs to concentrate on the task and the hazards associated with the flight path. The failure of a cockpit control panel backlighting may cause the pilot to divert his or her eyes.
To everyone’s relief, the reliability of aircraft lighting systems has dramatically improved with the use of solid-state lighting elements, including LED and electroluminescence (EL). With Astronics, clients can create a next-gen cockpit with high-performance keyboards, panels, displays, night vision options, and more. The company’s exterior lighting solutions ensure that the rotorcraft is visible from a distance with anti-collision, position, and formation lights. The company offers shock and vibration resistant and energy-efficient lighting for safe, long-lasting operation.
“We are glad to put 2020 behind us. The pandemic hit our core aerospace business hard early in the year, but our team demonstrated resilience and flexibility in the midst of very trying times. We enacted protocols to protect our employees and dramatically reduced our cost structure,” notes Gundermann.