Evolving systems

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A new Multi-Function Computer has been introduced for ATR turboprops. ATR

TURBOPROP MANUFACTURER ATR is developing a new version of its Multi-Function Computer (MFC) with updated software, ethernet connectivity and more functionality.

In an ATR turboprop, the MFC provides a centralised computing and data communication capability to support aircraft functions. It constantly receives information from components and systems, enabling operators to monitor them closely. It also interprets this data and sends commands back to those systems.

ATR says the MFC avoids the need for each individual component or system to have its own calculator, which the company says reduces the amount of cabling required and, in turn, cuts weight and simplifies the overall architecture.

The company says its aircraft are the only turboprops to feature such a system. The technology has featured on ATRs since 1992, with incremental enhancements to the original version made ever since.

Now, ATR is developing a brand-new version of the system known as the Next Generation MFC (MFC NG), building on the more than a quarter of a century of MFC operations, as well as using feedback from company test pilots, customers and ongoing research by the company’s Systems Design Office.

The MFC NG will have a similar architecture to its predecessor: two identical, interchangeable units, each with two identical, independent and segregated channels to ensure redundancy.

The software, however, will be totally new. It is based on an Integrated Modular Avionics architecture, with a multicore processor to ensure high performance levels, scope for embedding independent applications, and ethernet connectivity with a new dataloading and maintenance tool.

The MFC NG will feature three applications. One will control and monitor systems. The second will be responsible for systems maintenance and fault memorisation, with enhanced fault isolation and troubleshooting and what is described as “embedded management” of the aircraft’s multifunction control and display unit. The third application will be a bus power control application, replacing the two bus power control units (BPCUs) currently aboard the aircraft.

Management of the flight warning systems will be transferred to the Standard 4 version of ATR’s New Avionics Suite, which will have been certified before certification of the MFC NG. However, ATR notes the system uses the same power supply and the same cockpit interfaces as the current version, so there will be no requirement for operators to put their crews through a whole new training programme.

The MFC NG Avionics Project Leader Marielle Micaelli outlined the benefits of the new computer to ATR’s Next Connection publication. She said: “Firstly, maintenance operations will be simplified, thanks to the new, improved maintenance tool which is more user-friendly and features new functions specifically tailored to our operators’ needs, including enhanced fault isolation.

“Secondly, while the new MFC will be launched with three applications, it will provide scope for more. Each additional app can be certified and then incorporated into the MFC without impacting existing apps. The new MFC will also be more compact and weigh 25% less than its predecessor, while its mean time between failures target will at least double. Last but not least, integration of the two BPCUs will vastly improve not just fault isolation but also aircraft despatch reliability.”

With the MFC NG designed to integrate new applications, ATR says the updated computer “will also push back parts obsolescence by several decades”. The computer will become standard in the forward fit of all new ATRs following its certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency, which is planned for the first half of 2020.

The MFC NG is not the only new enhancement ATR has made to the systems capabilities of its turboprops. Onboard Wi-Fihas in the last few years become de rigueur on airliners, but the ATR is the first turboprop aircraft to offer it.

The manufacturer has also developed an onboard Wi-Fisystem called Cabinstream as an option for operators. Cabinstream provides high-speed wireless in-flight entertainment and connectivity, enabling passengers to stream films and TV shows, play games and read books and newspapers through their personal mobile phone or tablet.

Cabinstream, supplied by the New Zealand company Phitek, is a self-contained unit measuring just 120mm (4.7in) across that can store either standard or operator-customised multimedia content. The unit fits in an ATR’s overhead luggage storage bin and, because it is batteryoperated, no modifications to the airframe are required to install it. Phitek’s marketing material says Cabinstream also features a secure app enabling the crew to control the device and passenger announcements, if required, allowing operators to change content simply and offer automatic redundancy to prevent an outage.

ATR is offering Cabinstream as both a line-fit option for new-build aircraft and a retrofit for older ATRs; the initial operator will be the Gabonese airline Afrijet, which plans to introduce the system by the end of this year.