Out with the Old, In with the New

The PlaneDeck Liquid Crystal Displays upgrade dramatically improves situational awareness while reducing maintenance costs
avionics, aviation, technology, refurbishment
Written By Dale Smith

When the Gulfstream GIV entered service in the ’80s and the GV in the ’90s, they established an entirely new standard for large-cabin business aircraft. Owners and operators quickly came to rely on the aircraft’s ability to comfortably and efficiently take them across a country, continent or ocean.

Today, even though many of these aircraft are surpassing two decades of service, as companies and individuals continue to increase their need to travel the world efficiently, these legendary aircraft are just as much in demand as ever.

As with all its aircraft, Gulfstream is committed to maintaining the highest level of product support for the nearly 730 GIVs and GVs currently flying, and also to introducing programs that enhance the safety, capabilities and value of these signature aircraft.

“We continually put great effort into developing enhancements for our GIV and GV fleets,” explains Kim Henderson, avionics program manager, Product Support Sales. “Our GIV and GV customers tell us they want a way to upgrade the display capabilities and functionality of their aircraft’s cockpits.”

That was the idea behind the PlaneDeck upgrade. Gulfstream worked with Honeywell, the original manufacturer of the avionics suite, to develop an enhancement to replace the original six Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays with high-tech Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD).

“The LCDs provide a host of performance, reliability and serviceability benefits to GIV and GV operators without the high cost of retrofitting the entire cockpit,” says Henderson. “For example, the modern LCDs draw much less current and generate less heat behind the panel, so they don’t require external cooling fans like the CRTs do. Besides eliminating a component whose future capabilities are limited, the cockpit stays cooler as a result of the energy draw being so low. Additionally, cockpit noise levels are dramatically lowered due to the removal of the existing cooling fans, which are not required for the new technology.”

Henderson states that because these aircraft are high-value assets to their owners, minimizing installation downtime was a major goal. “Honeywell worked closely with Gulfstream engineers to create an upgrade that can be done while the aircraft is scheduled for routine maintenance or inspections.”

Seeing is Believing

When it comes to both visual clarity and the ability to display significantly more information to the pilots, the difference between CRTs and LCDs is night and day. In fact, PlaneDeck offers capabilities that are similar to those found on the industry-leading PlaneView® displays currently installed on factory-new, large-cabin production aircraft.

“With the CRTs you had no capability to upgrade the displays to add emerging technologies and enhanced functionality,” Henderson explains. “PlaneDeck’s LCDs provide the first step to an ongoing upgrade path that includes enhancements like electronics charts and approach plates, moving maps, satellite weather and video.”

Much of what the LCDs offer is due to the simple fact that their digital displays are visibly sharper and more colorful than the analog CRTs they replace.

“It’s like trying to watch a digital program on a 20-year-old TV,” says Henderson. “With the LCDs there’s so much more resolution available to display information. We also have the ability to superimpose layers of graphics, so there are fewer constraints as to what we can show on these displays.”

Take PlaneDeck’s electronic charts and maps for example. Using the aircraft’s GPS, PlaneDeck can give pilots a geo-referenced view of their aircraft superimposed right on the e-charts and maps. That capability greatly enhances the crew’s situational awareness, especially when operating at night or at an unfamiliar airport.

“Pilots face similar situations almost every day,” according to Henderson. “They’re often flying in reduced visibility and shooting complex approaches to new airports. Even on the ground, PlaneDeck’s enhanced capabilities are very beneficial while taxiing because pilots can see exactly which taxiway or runway they are on. It sounds simple, but it can significantly improve operational safety.”

Another popular situational awareness enhancement feature is PlaneDeck’s ability to complement the aircraft’s onboard radar with XM satellite weather information available while operating in continental United States (CONUS) airspace.

“XM gives crews the ability to check weather along their intended route before they take off,” he says. “Now they can perform truly strategic flight planning that may take advantage of favorable winds for fuel savings, or help them plan routes that avoid areas of known turbulence. That’s something the owners will really like.”

For those aircraft not currently equipped with Gulfstream’s industry-leading Enhanced Vision System (EVS), Henderson says that a relatively new capability that operators are choosing to add to their PlaneDeck installation is the Kollsman General Aviation Vision System (GAViS), which uses a top-mounted infrared nose camera to give flight crews forward enhanced views of vehicles on or near runways and obstacles and terrain immediately in front of the aircraft during both night and day operations.

“GAViS is a lower cost alternative to a full EVS enhanced vision system,” explains Henderson. “At the touch of a button, pilots can toggle between the infrared GAViS video and the electronic charts, maps or radar displays. It takes a lot of the stress out of low-visibility, high-workload situations.”

Just Plain Easy to Use

Ease-of-operation is another key PlaneDeck benefit. Along with creating a user interface system that is highly intuitive, Gulfstream includes two custom-designed Cursor Control Devices (CCDs) as part of the system’s installation.

“The CCD is the pilot interface unit that operates just like an articulating joystick, providing easy thumb-finger inputs for control, drop-down menus, mode selection and Push to Talk as well as other functions like zoom, scrolling and cursor placement,” Henderson says. “There is a CCD located on both the pilot and co-pilot side rails giving them easy control of their displays.”

The Right Upgrade at the Right Time

As cockpit upgrades go, it seems that Gulfstream hit the proverbial home run with its introduction of PlaneDeck in late 2011. “We are very pleased by the rapid acceptance of PlaneDeck after it was introduced to our GIV and GV owner/operators,” says Henderson. “They know that they have a truly great aircraft already and this offers them many more years of efficient operations. All they needed was a way to bring their aircraft up to current capabilities and that’s what PlaneDeck does. Plus, PlaneDeck also gives them a path for potential upgrades to meet emerging capabilities and technologies.”

Due to the age of CRTs and the fact that they’re no longer used in new aircraft, replacement CRTs are becoming harder to find and more expensive to replace or repair. That can have a negative impact on an aircraft’s availability and operational costs. That’s one problem that PlaneDeck eliminates immediately.

And, of course, it also doesn’t hurt the cause when owners learn that along with providing enhanced features and helping to lower maintenance costs, a PlaneDeck upgrade actually increases the value of their aircraft.

“Helping to increase the resale value is a good thing,” says Henderson. “One of the attributes our GIV and GV owners really like about PlaneDeck is that it helps make what is already the best aircraft for their needs even better.”

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