Around the world in 650kbps

By Alice Budge and Helen Haxell

Establishing and maintaining reliable satellite connectivity is a major challenge helicopter operators continue to encounter.

The disruption between the helicopter and satellite caused by the rotor blades has made developing SATCOM capabilities for rotorcraft significantly more challenging than for fixed-wing aircraft.

However, industry has made significant progress in responding to this challenge. Over the past few years a wide range of products have been released that use technological advancements in satellite connectivity to overcome the rotor blade disruption.

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The C150 Global Odyssey’s Bell 429 helicopter, with connectivity powered by Honeywell’s Aspire 200 satellite communications system and GoDirect Cabin Connectivity.

One such company is Honeywell which has recently had its Aspire 200 satellite communication system certified for installation on the Bell 429 and AW139.

The advances made in SATCOM technology have been demonstrated by the use of the Aspire 200 satellite communications system by the C150 Global Odyssey team, a father-son duo who are circumnavigating the world in a Bell 429 to mark 150 years of Canadian independence. Their route has tested the system’s ability to maintain connectivity in rural areas and cold climates.

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Father and son duo Bob and Steven Dengler in front of the Bell 429 helicopter they’ll be piloting during their journey as the world’s first Canadian helicopter flight team around the world.

Other recent advancements in SATCOM technology include Hughes’ demonstration earlier this year with its ability to use Beyond-Line-of-Sight SATCOM to transmit HD video through rotating blades on a NSA 407MRH.

Blue Sky Network is another company to unveil new satellite communication technology through its portable tracking device in tandem with the company’s HELink app to create a portable satellite tracking solution.

The company has  also developed the iOS SkyRouter app which incorporates smart device capability and enable users to connect to the HawkEye7200 using any Apple device. This will provide operators with the ability to send messages or data when Bluetooth is turned on.

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Formation flying in Iceland. (Photo: Baldur Sveinsson)

Goodman explained that the Aspire 200 system uses interleaver waveforms to compensate for the interference caused by the rotors by spreading information, ‘the zeros and ones, over a longer space of time to deliver a low error connection’.

‘If a piece of information gets lost in the first transmission the odds are very low that it would get lost in a second transmission,’ he added.

The long burst interleaver technology also provides continued connectivity in extreme climates. This has been tested by the C150 team, which has have flown around Northern Canada, Greenland and will soon travel across Russia and Alaska.

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Goodbye, Canada! Next stop: Sisimiut, Greenland. (Photo: C150 Global Odyssey)

This technology has a wide range of applications including for EMS as it will enable the crew to ‘capitalise on that golden hour when a patient is in the helicopter’ and transmit medical data from the helicopter to the hospital to ensure they are prepared upon the patient’s arrival, according to Tom Neumann, VP of operations at BendixKing – a Honeywell subsidiary.

The technology also facilitates VIP clients to utilise real-time video conferencing, Whatsapp and Facebook. This capability has been demonstrated by the C150 Global Odyssey in which the team flying the Bell 429 has been able to provide real-time updates, including images and videos, from the sky.

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Narsarsuaq to Kulusuk in Greenland. (Photo: C150 Global Odyssey)

Goodman emphasised Aspire 200’s capabilities, stating that the C150 team has reported that ‘in some very remote northern towns they’ve been staying in, the connectivity on the helicopter is far superior to what they can get on the ground’.

Honeywell is currently pursuing certification for the Aspire 200 on nine additional platforms including AW139, AS350, UH 60, CH 53, S-92 and the Bell 412.

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