Aircraft such as Airbus’ Zephyr serve as great examples of how avionics technology for experimental aircraft can be applied to aerial mobility.
The Zephyr is a solar-electric, stratospheric UAS, meaning that it can fly high enough to avoid most weather, but while staying in enough atmosphere to remain aloft from lift only. The aircraft relies on solar energy, and has a wingspan of 25m. Batteries charge during the day from solar panels integrated into the wings of the aircraft, which allow the aircraft to remain in flight for a staggering 25 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes. Such an airplane requires extremely light and efficient components to enable such long endurance figures, and the Zephyr team needed to include a certifiable transponder, ADS-B, and GPS package that met global airspace requirements all while having a having minimal size, weight, and power consumption.
Paul Beard, Founder and CEO of uAvionix, characterized the integrated ADS-B and GPS system: “every gram and milliwatt has to earn its way onto the platform for customers like Zephyr. The combined weight of the ping200X transponder and truFYX GPS is only around 70 grams and consumes less than 2 Watts of power while providing high power (54dBm), high integrity transmissions of ADS-B and transponder mode data to Air Traffic Control (ATC) and nearby, suitably equipped aircraft.”
UASweekly.com shared a summary of the contextual integration of this sort of avionics technology on their website recently: “Earlier this year, the FAA published its Upper Class E Traffic Management (ETM) Concept of Operations (CONOPS). Operations in upper Class E airspace have historically been limited due to the challenges faced by conventional fixed-wing aircraft in reduced atmospheric density. However, recent advances in power and propulsion technology, aircraft structures, flight automation, and aerodynamics have increased the number of vehicles like Zephyr that can operate in this environment. The utilization of traditional aviation technologies such as ADS-B and Mode S transponders are a key component of this CONOPS to allow for interoperability with existing Air Traffic Control (ATC) infrastructure and Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) avionics.’
Why it’s important: Companies like uAvionix, which are producing incredibly lightweight, capable ADS-B and GPS technology, are poised to fare well for plug-and-play avionics applications to a portion of aerial mobility aircraft that are currently in development. Of special consideration in this instance are these devices’ relatively high level of functionality for just a few grams of weight. While some aerial mobility companies are vertically integrating their avionics tech, precedent shows that a portion of companies approaching majority will elect to utilize already certified and flightworthy avionics packages, such as those being developed by uAvionix.