Pumas get glass cockpits

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 25 Sept 2008

Thunder City, the fast jet joyride business and aircraft maintenance organisation (AMO), has completed its first avionics design, installation and integration of a Chelton glass cockpit for a Puma SA 330 helicopter in partnership with Cobham SA.

Three more are currently being upgraded.

CEO Emilio Titus says the move, announced at the Africa Aerospace & Defence show, in Cape Town last week, signifies the graduation of the Cape company into a fully-fledged aviation company.

Titus says the Chelton cockpit features "the most modern and state-of-the-art avionics", including 3D synthetic vision, in-built flight management system, and an intuitive advisory system.

He says this introduces an enhanced situational awareness for the pilot, increasing flight safety significantly.

The Thunder City chief says there is currently an increased global demand for medium-lift helicopter capacity to satisfy the needs for search and rescue, transport for military personnel and oil exploration crews. "Yet delivery windows for new helicopters are long."

The Puma SA 330 helicopter, which first flew in 1965, remains mechanically sound but is challenged by unreliable and ageing avionics, he says.

"Glass cockpit technology provides an innovative response to this challenge."

The tie-up with Cobham subsidiary Chelton Systems has resulted in Thunder City becoming the first company anywhere to install an avionics retrofit solution into a Puma helicopter, he adds. Cobham is a British defence IT company.

The Chelton Puma suite consists of primary flight displays with advanced HUD symbology, multifunctional flight displays, attitude and direction heading reference systems, air data computer and a GPS wide augmentation system. The upgrade is compatible with night vision goggles.

An additional innovation for the Puma is an auto-stab upgrade by replacing old gyros via a synchro-converter solution linked to the autopilot.

Titus says the 3D terrain awareness system includes "highway in the sky" software. The system is certified to Level A of the international RTCA DO-178 standard.

Plans in the pipeline include an electronic engine monitoring systems and autopilot. Around 700 Pumas were built between 1965 and 1987 and most are still flying. Titus says he expects the upgrade can be easily adapted for the Super Puma, and similar classes of helicopters such as the Eurocopter Cougar and Denel Oryx.

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