Avionics Integration

If youre looking for single-brand integration, Bendix/King leads the pack, but at a princely price.

It wasnt long ago that it was considered a mark of excellence to have a panel composed of all one brand. In a for-sale ad, the phrase all Bendix/King IFR Silver Crownwas thought to have a cachet in the buyers mind and even if that wasnt the case, it still sounded good.

These days, you can still build a panel entirely composed of one brand-Honeywells Bendix/King line, Garmin or UPSATs Apollo line and there are good technical arguments for doing it. But with the current avionics market being fragmented in terms of what various boxes will do-and wont do-the savvy owner has to be increasingly concerned about avionics integration or, more simply, the way one manufacturers boxes work with another.

In this article, we’ll examine each manufacturers full line integrated suite and also look at potential problem areas when trying to mix and match different brands.

That said, one thing is clear: we havent seen a single manufacturer cover all bases just yet.

In other words, if you want to remove your old monochrome radar and replace it with newer radar but want to end up with a complete Garmin stack, you cant get there. If you want all Bendix/King and a great radar, you’ll get closer but you’ll still lack capabilities that the Garmin suite offers. Expect to sacrifice something, temporarily, if you chose a single brand.

Never Ending Quest
When owners seek advice on this topic, we make it clear that upgrading avionics should be thought of as a never-ending project. Expect to fine tune and make changes to the integration as capabilities increase.

Unlike the simple days of Silver Crown, the modern stack is simply made of computers. And the frustrations we see during PC upgrades apply to cockpits, too. Software revisions are ongoing, some of which introduce strange new bugs along with their added features.

When planning your new panel, you need a crystal ball to look at the future-and by future, we mean a year at the most. For example, you might not want traffic avoidance gear now because it exceeds your budget.

But in a year, it might fit the budget perfectly, thanks to newer technology. Yet unless you pick the right manufacturer, you wont have the correct hardware to interface with that new technology and, ultimately, this could cost you more money. Heres the short list of things you’ll want to consider:

• Basic communications and navigation
• Datalink weather
• Lightning detection
• Onboard weather radar
• Engine monitoring/fuel flow
• Traffic avoidance gear
• Terrain warning gear
• Approach plate/chart display

Where to start? We recommend you examine each of the big three separately for that brands total package. Which will get you closest to where you want to be within a reasonable budget and time frame?

Although slow out of the gate behind Garmin, Honeywell Bendix/King has worked hard to offer a fully integrated suite and their experience in the corporate aviation sector with EFIS and flight control products shows. They were pioneers in the development of weather radar, TCAS and ground prox, where they enjoy a sterling reputation.

This experience has come together in the IHAS Integrated Hazard Avoidance System, geared for small-airplane GA.

The central feature of this stack is the KMD550 and KMD850 color multifunction displays, which offer the ability to view fully integrated safety information devices on a single screen.

The IHAS5000, with the KMD550, is aimed at non-radar equipped piston airplanes and IHAS8000 allows for a weather radar interface, with the RDR2000 digital vertical profile weather radar. Some RDS radar systems will also play.

Either screen will display traffic alert from the Goodrich Skywatch or Honeywells new KTA870 traffic alert system. Big-airplane TCAS I and TCAS II will also work, if you have bucks to burn.

Suppose you want to equip your mid-1970s vintage Baron with an IHAS suite and need new audio, navcomms, GPS and weather avoidance equipment including lightning detection. Traffic alerting might be of interest but you suspect its costs will blow the budget. Terrain awareness also comes to mind as you regularly shoot unfamiliar approaches in low weather. Heres what IHAS-and the current Silver Crown Plus avionics-can do for your Baron:

The KMA28 audio control panel-which is a PS Engineering PMA7000MS branded by Bendix/King-will do the switching, marker beacon and intercom for all seats. The KX165A/155A navcomms do traditional communications and ground-based nav chores and the KLN94 color GPS is IFR-capable and the driver of the KMD display. (KLN90s/89Bs will also work.)

For frequency fetching chores, the navcomms are tied with the KLN94 via an RS232 interface. The GPS database loads the frequencies into the navcomms automatically, depending on position and approach selected.

The KMH880 integrated traffic and terrain sensor will take care of terrain and traffic advisories and its information is overlaid on the KMD display. If you don’t want terrain but you do want the traffic, you can buy the KTA870 traffic system alone. And if you want terrain but not traffic, the KGP560 EGPWS baby ground prox system is the choice.

With open architecture, any of these remote interfaces can be added at anytime with expansion cards in the multifunction display. We think this is smart marketing on Bendix/Kings part.

For weather, two choices: The capable RDR2000 series vertical profile radar will drive the KMD850 display and weather is overlaid on the base map. Its clear, in our view, that the RDR2000 is the most value for the money when it comes to modern airborne radar.

However, if you think that money spent on radar is wasted, another option is datalink weather, via Honeywells FIS or flight information services. The KDR510 datalink receiver radio catches broadcasts from approximately 200 ground-based sites.

This weather is almost real time and is purchased like cable television via Honeywells Wingman services. You buy the services you need, depending on your flying habits.

In either case, whatever weather and services you want are overlaid on the KMD display. You can even supplement the datalink with the RDR2000 radar, if youre worried about growing pains or outages. Talk about overkill.

Similarly, if you think that traffic alerting such as the Goodrich Skywatch or Honeywells KTA870 are out of budget, you can always buy into the Honeywell KT73 Mode-S transponder. This box receives traffic information broadcasted from ATC sites that use secondary surveillance radar and TCAS-like symbology is then overlaid on the KMD550. This is the least expensive way to get traffic alerting, at the moment. we’ll review this technology as soon as its available for flight test.

List price for the Honeywell IHAS8000 suite with all the options comes to a whopping $53,000, plus. Hardly cheap. But Bendix/King is the only company thus far that puts this altogether in one package from the same source, without resorting to outside vendors.

The main attraction of the UPSAT suite is the MX20 color multifunction display. The MX20 is essentially a computer that runs a version of Windows NT operating software. Its active-matrix LCD display is crisp and measures 6 inches diagonal. The map clarity is superior to the KMD series from Bendix/King, in our view, and it has more tricks when interfaced with the rest of the UPSAT suite. More on that later.

Although not a true ground prox, one appeal of the MX20 is the terrain database stored in the units internal memory. This sweetens the deal when trying to select an MFD among otherwise equal features. What closes the deal, in our estimation, is the Jeppesen approach plate feature called Chart View. Plates for all 48 contiguous states are stored in the MX20, downloaded from CD-ROM. The MX-20s base map already includes low-altitude IFR charts.

The plate option, a $2500 add-on, is available now and whether you have the money or not, you may eventually want it. Even without the Chart View, the MX20 is a winner in our view and UPSAT says it will soon support digital radar systems.

Weather datalinking capabilities have been announced via a partnership with AirCell, the folks who do cockpit telephone communications. Both the radar interface and datalink weather is scheduled for April/May of this year. Were not sure if theyll make it, but the capability is on the horizon.

Around the MX20, UPSAT has developed a highly capable line of navcomms-the SL30 conventional navcomms with glideslope and the SL40 comm-only unit. These have auto-tuning capability when interfaced with any of the GX-series GPS units. As with Bendix/King, UPSAT offers a PS Engineering-designed audio panel, the SL15M.

Although not available at press time, UPSAT plans to have interfaces for both the Ryan TCAD and Skywatch and already has lightning detection via the WX-500 coupled to the MX20.

Of late, Garmins slogan has been changing the course of aviation and by our lights, theyve lived up to the claim. Oddly, they have lagged behind Bendix/King in full integration. On the other hand, the GNS430/530 owns the GPS-based navcomm market. These are the gold standards for many buyers upgrading.

Although not alone in the modern avionics arena, Garmin has done what no other manufacturer has, given equal amounts of panel space. With the GNS430/530, you can take care of communications and navigation in one box, including glide-slope, IFR GPS and multifunction display.

For these reasons, Garmin seems to be at the top of the heap sales wise but not necessarily integration wise. Compared to the other manufacturers, integrating a Garmin stack is much simpler because thus far, the company lacks capabilities that we think still sends prospective buyers to the competition. If you want an all Garmin stack, heres what it looks like:

The GMA340 audio panel with intercom is a proven performer as is the GNS530 with its large color screen for primary navcomm and GPS, plus the capability to display WX-500 lightning data. But what if you want to feed your airborne radar sensor into a Garmin MFD or you want terrain now or think you’ll want it within a year or two?

Youre out of luck on the radar. Garmin says the GNS530 wont be configured to be radar capable, which means you’ll need to shop elsewhere. Avidynes FlightMax line remains the leader in this market segment. They support more radar possibilities than any other MFD maker.

Garmin did buy the KWX-56 radar line from Narco and we assume theyll do something with this product related to a cockpit display of some kind. But we don’t yet know enough about it to even form a vague picture in the crystal ball. As for terrain awareness, we know of nothing in the works from Garmin. The Goodrich LandMark system is supposedly coming along but its too far over the horizon to wait for.

If you want traffic, you can display Goodrichs Skywatch on the 430/530 combination, as we’ll as Ryans 9900B and 9900BX TCAD units. On the way is Garmins new GTX-330 Mode-S transponder, which will provide traffic avoidance through a ground-based ATC datalink.

What weve been promised for a while is datalink weather via the Garmin GDL49 datalink box. This offers datalink weather via direct LEO satellite–no ground station transmissions-so Garmin touts the ability to look at weather before takeoff rather than climbing to 5000 feet first.

But you can look at weather on your laptop before takeoff, too, so who cares? Lots of theories on datalink and our theory is that Garmin ought to apply its superb market timing and get this project off the dime and moving.

As far as stack integration, if you had a 530 and 430 and GTX327 transponder, theyll all communicate. The GTX327 will RS232 pressure altitude info and with crossfill, information is shared between the 430/530. Load an approach in the GNS530 and the info is sent into the secondary unit, either a 430 or second 530.

Benefit? You can run the large screen 530 on a map page but run the secondary on fuel computation page, weather or traffic. In other words, there’s a lot of flexibility and it all works.

Although Garmin doesnt offer as much frequency automation as UPSAT/Apollo-which is almost too much, in our view-the 530/430 will autoload them. Its easy to manually pick them out of the menu on the fly and not everyone is geek enough to manage all of the autoloading and dual monitoring that the Apollo provides. But if you can master it, its nice to have.

Last, Garmin uses several varieties of ARINC, which is a plus for future but as-yet-unknown capabilities. ARINC works better than RS232, which Garmin also happens to offer. In short, Garmin offers the most flexibility for solving installation problems.

Of the big three, Garmin is the least impressive when it comes to available parts and pieces for integrated panels. Nice crystal ball stuff, but hardware is lacking. On the other hand, what it does offer works superbly and it has one huge advantage: when panel space is tight, Garmin wins because it does more in less space. With four boxes-audio, 530/430 combination and a transponder-youve got the bases covered and then some. Just add the remote boxes for lightning and traffic.

For some owners, this clean installation is worth the 530s limitations on lack of radar and rich terrain display.

In the integration race, Honeywell Bendix/King is the current front runner, in our view. As noted, you can play one brand radar, one brand MFD, one brand of terrain avoidance gear thats TAWS legal, one brand traffic and navcomm and so on down the line, up to and including an HSI and autopilot. No one else can do that.

You also get a promise that the same brand will soon play your datalink weather and datalink traffic. For sure, its the most expensive in the pack and Honeywell knows this limits the full suite application to-dare we say- upper crust airplanes. Full Honeywell in a King Air or 400 series Cessna? Definitely. In a Grumman Tiger? Not likely.

The UPSAT/Apollo suite, in our view, offers the best combination of affordable total integration at the moment and the MX20 is impressive with the Chart View option. The new GPSS steering with interface to S-TEC autopilots sweetens the deal. The downside is that compared to the Garmin products, UPSATs GX-series GPS navigators don’t have much of a moving map and arent as intuitive to operate.

One solution, of course, is mix and match. The MX20 is highly capable and priced lower than any other MFD of its type, so it makes the perfect companion for a Garmin GNS430, an interface weve had great success with in the company Mooney.

If we wish, we can still add traffic, remote Stormscope, Jepp plates and engine monitoring while retaining the friendly logic of the GNS430 with no brand loyalty hangups.

Know, however, that if you mix and match major systems, youre are also mixing different software and communication protocols and you’ll sacrifice features that you can only get by staying with one brand. Differences in RS232 baud rate, for example, can squash even the most straightforward interface.

If all manufacturers used Avidyne and Garmins ARINC/RS232 combination, the mix and match game might be easier. Proper engineering from the installing shop is also essential.

Before deciding on any of this, we suggest that you carefully consider all the capabilities and make a list of whats important to you.

For example, do you want the nav radio to highlight the VOR on the moving map when the nav radio is tuned to that VORs frequency? If you mix brands, it cant be done.

And, if you try to get creative between brands, expect some bumps in the road. Ask an UPSAT engineer why the Honeywell box isn’t doing what you want it to and you’ll likely get a guess and a recommendation to call someone else. We have found that there simply isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to a forward-looking upgrade. A friend has been on the hunt for a Centurion and decided on one with original 1970s vintage radios so he could add a new full suite.

One 210 was ruled out because the stack was only a few years old and all one brand, but not the latest and greatest capable of playing weather, traffic and lightning. Buying it would be like owning a Pentium II PC-a great computer but little future potential.

So the caution is this: If you don’t look through your own crystal ball and ask the right questions, you could get stuck with a stack thatll work fine but leave you no room to grow.

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-by Larry Anglisano

Larry Anglisano is Aviation Consumers avionics editor. He works with EXXEL Avionics at Brainard Airport in Hartford, Connecticut.