U.S. Coast Guard helicopters boosted with avionics upgrade from Rockwell Collins

By the end of 2019, U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 helicopters will start getting equipped with a new avionics architecture from Rockwell Collins that brings a number of new search and rescue capabilities.

Upgrade expands upon long history of helicopter avionics systems providing reliability when it matters most.

Hovering a four-ton helicopter a mere 50 feet above water at night, with intense swells and wind, could be considered a dangerous job. Combine that with watching and anticipating any number of issues that could arise as crew members drop below to perform a difficult rescue. In that kind of scenario, pilots put a great deal of trust in their aircraft and equipment to do its job when there’s no room for mistakes.

Fortunately, pilots of the U.S. Coast Guard MH-65E will be able to take these types of missions head on and safely with the help of Rockwell Collins avionics and its missionized application software.

“The Coast Guard mission requires the helicopter’s flight director to be coupled all the way down to 50 feet, much lower than other services,” said Matt Mulnik, senior engineering manager, Maritime and Civil Systems for Rockwell Collins. “For a pilot to have that level of trust in their avionics in that kind of situation is pretty extraordinary. It really speaks volumes to our history of providing reliable systems.”

Since 1979, Rockwell Collins has been a primary provider of avionics for Coast Guard helicopters. A long-standing performance based logistics agreement for maintenance has also been in place with the Coast Guard since 1998, currently serving the entire fixed wing and rotary wing fleet. This has played a role in the Coast Guard achieving a nearly 99 percent availability rate of its mission-critical aircraft.

Avionics upgrade brings new capabilities

By the end of 2019, MH-65 helicopters will start getting equipped with a new avionics architecture from Rockwell Collins that will support the Coast Guard’s plan to extend their operational life. The upgrade, which results in the new designation as MH-65E, includes all-glass, large-format digital displays that bring a boost to video and imaging options. With the upgrade, multiple video sources from outside and inside the aircraft can be displayed. Some of these include video from a hoist camera for a better view and a cabin camera so the pilot can observe activity in the back of the helicopter. The external imaging from infrared radar and electro-optical systems can also be displayed. The system allows the pilots to save images and video to a mission data recorder for immediate review or a later download off of the aircraft.

Coast Guard avionics
Upgraded avionics in a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65E cockpit.

“Pilots will have increased situational awareness and a reduced workload, which can make a huge difference in challenging situations when every second counts,” said Heather Robertson, senior director, Rotary Wing Solutions for Rockwell Collins.

The system is designed with the latest open architecture, allowing for the reuse of applications developed on other programs to be hosted within this avionics system. This includes third party applications maximizing pilot capability with minimal cost to upgrade the system.

The upgrade includes Rockwell Collins’ integrated civil and military flight management system. This meets the requirements for area navigation and gives the special mission capability that the Coast Guard needs, while meeting aviation mandates to allow the aircraft to fly in civil airspace.

Search and rescue capabilities will also be improved with a full integration of Rockwell Collins’ DF-500 direction finder into the new flight management system and display. The DF-500 receiver continuously scans for emergency beacons over a large frequency range and pinpoints the location of any detected beacon on the digital display. The pilot can set the system to fly directly to that position, fly a search pattern if needed, and also view the point or the flight plan on a digital map, weather display or terrain map.

Example search and rescue pattern on avionics display.

“We worked very closely with the Coast Guard to develop these new capabilities that will improve safety and effectiveness in future missions,” said Dhiraj Raghwani, programs manager, Maritime and Civil Systems at Rockwell Collins. “We have a long history with the Coast Guard and are proud to be a part of such an important program that saves lives and keeps our waterways safe every day.”