Status date

This project has as objective the development and integration of an airborne user terminal based on satcom, navigation and computing commercial modules. The target market is the ultra-light aviation segment made up of aircraft owners and operators. The terminal will be tested in a real airborne environment with the application software needed for new services provisioning. The space segments is GLOBALSTAR.

The produced terminal could also prepare the ground for applications dedicated to the general and commercial aviation market and for employment of other space segments in the airborne environment.

The availability of the ultra-light flight environment enables this development at a fraction of the cost of the same development in the commercial aviation environment.

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The business of service provisioning for UL aviation is entirely new and our preliminary analysis shows high potential and user community expectations. The proposed services enhance safety and introduce very useful features that are also lacking in the commercial aviation sector.

The main services that will be prototyped and tested in the project are:

  • On-line and off-line maps and information,

  • Airfields near present position and operational status,

  • Traffic information,

  • Meteo information (text and/or graphics),

  • Services available at airports and operational status (fuel, restoration, car transportation, etc.),

  • Black Box Telemetry,

  • Eme

The Birdcom architecture, based on these services provisioning and telecommunications, allocates Birdcom in a completely new market segment, compared to commercial GPS navigators based on local maps.

This market segment is the provisioning of near-real time location based services for aviation, including ATC. The sub-segment target of the Birdcom system is UL flight.

A similar evolution is on the way for car navigation and personal navigation in metropolitan areas, where UMTS allows fast on-line location of commercial services, as restaurants and shops, with map real time transmission. The new UMTS terminals contain a GPS for these services.

For aviation the improvement in safety, similar to what can be achieved by radar control, makes this service much more important, and the satellite communications is the only possible choice for data transfer.

In fact the improving precision in satellite location systems, in particular GALILEO, will eventually make systems like Birdcom more reliable and accurate than the radar + transponder (secondary radar) system.

Due to two-way data communications, the on-board system can be updated by the future control centre with routing instructions. Hence the aircrafts will not be forced to follow only routes connecting two radio-navigation stations (VOR) and separation between aircrafts can be enforced also in "free flight".

The Birdcom terminal is intended as a part of a complete system, that has been also deployed in the frame of the project, based on a prototype service centre connected to the flying fleet using two parallel Globalstar connections.

The airborne Birdcom terminals operate as PCs connected in virtual LAN to the service centre (SC). Furthermore one or more ground terminals can be used to monitor the flying terminals connected to the SC in Internet or LAN.

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The modular structure of the realized terminal can allocate future modules when needed. This is very important in a rapidly evolving technology scenario.

The blocks of the prototyped terminal can be grouped in three sub-components: a NAV module; a COM module and a DATA module:

  • NAV module: formed by the GPS antenna and the GPS receiver. In this release GPS has been used. GALILEO is the main substitute that we foresee, as it is anticipated that even more advanced services could be provided once Galileo is operational.

  • COM module: formed by two Globastar modems, the RF unit (combiner and splitter) and the Globastar antenna.

  • DATA module: formed by a standard PC motherboard and a touch-screen LCD display. A commercial PC board running Linux and using an appropriate display for cockpit panel has been integrated. The DATA module can been also connected to other on-board avionics as digital attitude sensors or autopilots.
The main feature of the proposed terminal is scalability. As technology evolves, DATA, NAV and COM components can be upgraded as needed.

The user terminal will be the main buildi

The Design and Development Plan will illustrate the logical execution of the activities from contract award to final review.

The Design and Development Plan is summarised as follows:

WP 1: Program definition
WP 2: User Terminal design and implementation
WP 3: User terminal Globalstar modem adaptation
WP 4: System ground integration
WP 5: Application and Service Centre design and test implementation
WP 6: Aircraft integration
WP 7: Pilot Trials

Current status

The project has been successfully concluded in November 2005.

The pilot trials were based on a flight activity of about 70 hours. The goal of the tests were mainly designed to assess system effectiveness in terms of VFR (Visual Flight Rules) navigation.

The excellent quality of NAV data has been successfully verified.

The Man Machine Interface (MMI) has been refined and tested following the indications of professional pilots, in particular regarding usability and effectiveness of:

  • 3D corridors

  • 3D airspaces (ATZ, TMA, CTR)

  • 3D corridor for runway approach

  • Formats used for visualization (buttons, status bars, etc.)

  • Display selection ergonomics (pointing devices)

  • Digital messaging to/from ground.
The Birdcom project has been successfully presented in several air shows and exhibitions. As an added value, the terminal open architecture will allow fast adaptations and improvement, first of all the upgrading to the Galileo navigation system.