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Rockwell Collins & Honeywell Aerospace - Aviation Technology Achievement Award 2010

Despite all the advances in airframe durability and engine reliability over the past 50 years that have helped to make air travel the safest form of transportation the world has ever known, one thing has not changed: Bad weather is a threat to be avoided, not confronted. Fortunately, airlines have a weapon in their arsenal that gives them a huge advantage in the never-ending war of wits with Mother Nature--highly advanced weather radar systems.

These systems are playing a vital role in improving safety of flight, reducing turbulence-related injuries and boosting operational efficiency. ATW is recognizing these achievements with a rare dual presentation of the Aviation Technology Achievement Award to Honeywell Aerospace for its IntuVue weather radar and Rockwell Collins for its MultiScan weather radar.

It is well understood that the presence of competition in a market drives innovation and technological advancement, and commercial aviation offers few better examples of this than the longstanding rivalry between Rockwell Collins and Honeywell Aerospace. As each has sought to leapfrog the other in propelling the state of the art in weather radar, the ultimate beneficiaries have been flight crews and the flying public.

While the advent of digital radars with color displays changed the capability spectrum dramatically, enabling the systems to acquire a more accurate weather picture and allowing for more descriptive cockpit displays, there were significant shortcomings in that there was no ability to look at a storm's structure and identify or predict hazards, or to detect clear air turbulence, while ground clutter distorted returns. Furthermore, systems were not automated, requiring pilots to fidget with tilt, range and gain and interpret returns. Weather radar interpretation remained a dark science that relied too much on luck and guesswork.

The challenge both companies set for themselves was to render radar less of a head game and more of a roadmap, easing the need for interpretation. With introduction of the MultiScan and IntuVue systems that scan out up to 320 nm., they have achieved this. These systems are able to scan weather automatically up to 60,000 ft. and analyze a storm cell; gauge convective nature, intensity and maturity, and detect turbulence and the potential to produce hazardous lightning and hail.

A critical advantage of both systems is the ability to interpret the base of a thunderstorm and paint a predictive picture for the pilot of what lies ahead at cruise. Both are certified using FAA's new enhanced turbulence Detection Minimum Operational Performance Standard, providing more sensitive and accurate turbulence detection capability. The results are extremely impressive, with a reduction in turbulence-related incidents of more than 45% and in false detects by 15% and a system reliability increase of 50%.

These radars also are a blessing for pilots on ascent and descent when workload is at its highest, with both able to eliminate another major variable: ground clutter. Honeywell uses the EGPWS database to extract ground return while Rockwell Collins uses an advanced ground clutter suppression algorithm in conjunction with an internal terrain database.

While radars have come a long way as they transformed from rain gauges into hazard gauges, neither company is resting on its laurels. Honeywell is looking at an increase of more than twice the current detection range, enabling crews to request a change of course rather than just illuminating the fasten seatbelt sign. This is made possible in part owing to its pulse-compression technology that previously was only available in more expensive military radars.

Both avionics makers are examining Light Detection and Ranging solutions to detect clear air turbulence, which could increase detection to 95%. Other solutions could include passive infrared, which would seek turbulence from temperature data.

Underscoring the challenges of reading the weather, Rockwell Collins, when refining its MultiScan, chartered a 737 to obtain critical data on the variation in thunderstorms around the globe, as it had discovered that storm cells behave quite differently in different regions.

Mark Twain famously quipped that "everyone complains about the weather but no one ever does anything about it." Honeywell Aerospace and Rockwell Collins have done something about it. For their pioneering efforts and continuing focus on delivering the latest radar technology to make flying even safer and passengers more comfortable, they are deserving recipients of ATW's Aviation Technology Achievement Award.

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