Preflight test development included performance and noise-testing with CFM at GE's Peebles ground-test facility in Ohio. Initial acoustic results validated predictions, according to Parham, who says, “we weren't at all worried about noise.”
Boeing also took advantage of the EcoDemonstrator to test new methods of connectivity with the ground as well as wireless-enabled flight-deck display and cabin information applications. The overall suite has the potential to bring current production and older aircraft up to 787 standards in terms of connectivity and could provide the basis for improving pilot situational awareness and strategic route-planning on all models.
As with the other components under test, the scope of the systems experiments snowballed, says Tim Rahmes, flight sciences engineering and flight trajectory optimization principal investigator. “We wanted to do something to kick-start the uplink of weather data, and we realized it would support a variety of capabilities. It became a sort of 'build it and they will come' thing. None of this is guaranteed to be a future offering yet, but it is looking pretty promising.”
The idea of uplinking live weather imagery to aircraft over the wide expanses of ocean where there is no such conventional coverage (such as Nexrad over the continental U.S.), became more urgent following the 2009 weather-related Air France Flight 447 accident in the South Atlantic. “We need something that's global, and that's why we chose a global system which is lightweight,” says Rahmes. The configuration tested on the 737 included a Swift intermediate-gain broadband antenna from CMC Electronics, a Thales satcom data unit and a Boeing-built Onboard Network System (ONS)—a network file server that connects via a wireless network to other aircraft systems.
“It's a suite of capabilities,” Rahmes says. “That's the enabling aspect of what we're doing with this framework. The network file server can also host a lot of such things as aircraft health management, flight data-recorder streaming, downlinking of weather observations and quick-access recorder data.”
The systems architect on Boeing's electronic flight bag (EFB) project, Matt Jarka, says the system goes beyond the EFB, which “historically have been embedded into the aircraft. Flight crews have transitioned to electronic operations, but in most cases these have been very [centered on] the aircraft. What we're doing with the mobile device initiative (and the iPad is the most requested by our customers) allows us to extend EFB off the aircraft, and pilots can take it with them to airline operations and back to their hotels.”
Although the initiative appears to be at odds with Boeing's long-running EFB development, the manufacturer says it is better to be leading the mobile device initiative than letting another company take away its market. The demonstrator is also helping to explore “how best to integrate and display that information in the flight deck,” says Jarka.
“We are allowing the iPad to communicate directly with the aircraft, and that's something we haven't done before. It connects to the ground servers in flight so we can upload live weather, and we are testing it to download mock defect reports,” Jarka says. “This is taking it to the next level, because it's getting to the point where this is real-time data, and airplane health management is a big part of that. The 737 in particular doesn't have this capability, but with this system, we just brought the 737 10 years into the future. In effect, with ONS we take a 737 and bring its technology base up to 777 or 787 levels.”
Android and Windows 8 mobile devices will also be studied, with the Android system due for testing in 2013. “We have a close relationship with Windows and will look into it this year,” Jarka says.