Honeywell Aerospace knows how to grow. Since its earliest aviation efforts in 1914, this Phoenix, Arizona-based company has mastered the art of growth through acquisition.
Honeywell — a designer and supplier of advanced technologies, avionics, turbine engines, electric motors, navigation and other products — acquired numerous legacy companies to strengthen its position in the global aerospace business. Those acquired companies include Sperry, Bendix, Garrett AiResearch, Pioneer, Lycoming, Grimes, King Radio and AlliedSignal.
Today, Honeywell has 10,000-plus customers involving numerous aircraft. Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, Bell, Leonardo, Sikorsky and Gulfstream use Honeywell avionics and other systems.
In the turboshaft domain, Honeywell makes and supports the CTS800, HTS7500, HTS900, LTS101 and T55. The HTS900 powers the “hot and high” Eagle Copters 407HP, while the LTS101 powers the Bell 222, Airbus/Kawasaki BK117, Airbus AS350 and Avicopter AC311, and many other civil helicopters.
The T55 has logged some 12 million hours of operation powering the Boeing CH-47 Chinook. And the company’s growth continues. In June 2020, Honeywell formed its Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) division, headed by Vice President and General Manager Stéphane Fymat. The goal: to supply avionics, propulsion, mechanical and critical systems for all-electric and hybrid-electric air taxis and cargo drones.
“There has been an absolute surge of funding going into this market,” said Steven Montes, a defense electronics analyst with Forecast International, who follows the eVTOL sector. “While this is great for accelerating the technology to commercialization, there is a surplus of eVTOL companies.”
The electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) and electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) aircraft trend could be compared to the uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) market around 2010. Montes said, “In the beginning, there were more UAV companies than stars in the sky. Now that market has consolidated into several key players. The same is likely to happen in the urban air mobility market,” for which there are several applications for the technology, such as air medical, short-distance travel, tourism and freight service.
The eVTOL and eCTOL aircraft that survive in this short-haul arena are those that establish partnerships with deep-pocketed investors that are in for the long haul. As a first-tier vendor to all-electric aircraft, Honeywell is a standout. “They have become the leader of the electronics systems found in a staggering number of eVTOLs in the market,” said Montes. “They have developed countless technologies for this sector and positioned themselves as the place to go for off-the-shelf [and new] eVTOL solutions.” To help cement its place in this sector, Honeywell is partnering with various eVTOL aircraft developers, including Vertical Aerospace; Textron-owned Pipistrel, the Ajdovščina, Slovenia-based light aircraft manufacturer that certified the first eCTOL two-seat trainer; and Germany-based Lilium, developer of what they call “the first eVTOL jet.”
Vertical Aerospace’s VX4, which has a projected range of 100 miles (161 km) and 150 mph (241 km/h) cruise speed, will feature Honeywell’s fly-by-wire and cloud-enabled Anthem avionics system, while the Lilium Jet will utilize Honeywell’s Anthem and fly-by-wire controls, and “electric jet engines” developed in partnership with Honeywell and Denso.
Honeywell also is providing navigation and sensor technology for Pipistrel’s uncrewed Nuuva V300 long-range autonomous cargo aircraft. The aircraft will be equipped with Honeywell’s attitude and heading reference system (AHRS) and air data module (ADM). The UAV is being designed to carry loads up to 1,000 lb (460 kg).
The technology eliminates the need for operators “to be trained with traditional piloting skills,” stated Tine Tomažič (pronounced Toma-zees), Pipistrel’s Chief Technology Officer.
More recently, Honeywell announced a partnership with California-based Archer, for which it is delivering actuation and thermal management systems for that company’s five-seat Midnight eVTOL aircraft (see “Archer’s Midnight Showing,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2023). Honeywell also is working with Hyundai subsidiary Supernal to map out the avionics system for its four-passenger S-A1 eVTOL aircraft.
“We have other arrangements we hope to soon announce,” said Jia Xu (pronounced Jha Zu), CTO of Honeywell’s AAM business.
Asked why Honeywell entered the all-electric aircraft field, Xu said, “We recognized that this sector needs Honeywell to provide primary flight control and other systems… To make the system work, you need a fly-by-wire (FBW) system that interprets pilot’s actions and translates that into an integrated aircraft actuation response.” Honeywell’s FBW system is one-tenth the size of a standard FBW system (see “Honeywell Goes ‘All In’ on Urban Air Mobility,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2020).
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published its special condition for eVTOL aircraft (SC-VTOL), which specified airliner-like safety objectives for flights over cities.
Reducing weight of avionics and other systems through miniaturization and maintaining safety of these short-haul electric powered aircraft is a must. Honeywell’s compact flight control systems will weigh around 10 lb (4.5 kg), compared to as much as 1,000 lb (450 kg) on a large commercial airliner.
Xu added, “The very high safety requirements for the UAM industry (as seen in EASA SC-VTOL regulations) is also driving us to deploy sophisticated avionics architectures and sensors previously unseen in the general aviation market. So, while it is true that we are working hard to streamline features, we are also adding lots of new capabilities — far beyond what has been deployed in the small aircraft segment.”
Having a strong reputation for providing safety-related products is an overriding reason Honeywell entered this arena. “Safety is paramount,” said Xu. “These aircraft will fly in urban, complex airspace over-populated areas. You need to innovate to enable safety. So, we see [UAM] as the right space for us because the safety requirements are so hard.”
Honeywell’s partnerships vary. The company helps enable the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to safely operate their aircraft by supplying critical aircraft systems for the UAM sector. In other cases, Honeywell invested directly in all-electrical aircraft companies, such as Lilium and Vertical, to help increase their profile and solidify their programs.
Honeywell offers vehicle management, FBW, detect-and-avoid, connectivity, actuation and sensors for passenger UAM and uncrewed cargo aircraft. In propulsion, the company offers motors/controllers, turbogenerators and thermal management systems.
In early 2019, Honeywell unveiled a hybrid-electric system that combines the company’s HTS900 helicopter engine with two compact generators, each providing 200 kW of power (see “The Electric VTOL Industry Shifts Gears, Vertiflite, May/June 2019). The company is now testing its next generation, 1-MW turbogenerator (see “Hard-Core Hybrids,” Vertiflite, May/June 2021) based on the Honeywell HGT1700 auxiliary power unit (APU); the turbogenerator completed its initial tests this past May.
“There is an inherent need for electric and hybrid-electric power as the urban air mobility segment takes shape and unmanned aerial vehicles enter service,” said Fymat. “Our turbogenerators provide a safe, lightweight package to serve these burgeoning segments, and we’re designing our solutions to meet the unique needs of customers developing aerial vehicles of the future.”
Honeywell’s integrated Anthem avionics platform is designed to support aircraft from UAM to transport-category airliners. Anthem, which is on numerous business jets, provides better connectivity and has a “scalable and customizable design,” according to company materials. Anthem’s primary benefit “allows complex aircraft to function with more autonomy,” which is exactly what electric-powered air taxis needs.
Most eVTOL aircraft are being designed for single-pilot operations, and Anthem helps reduce workload for the pilot. Companies hope in the future to get to simplified vehicle operations (SVO), where the pilot is telling the aircraft what to do, but the computers are flying the aircraft.
“There will be cases where we add additional automation and simplification because we know that these air taxis missions are shorter,” said Xu. “With simplified vehicle operations, we have to remove all the things the pilot no longer has to do with a pre-planned operation.”
For the flight management system, Honeywell has integrated the avionics systems with the flight controls and sensors to allow for continuity.
Honeywell also offers its advanced IntuVue RDR-84K Band Radar System for these air taxis. The technology uses multiple beams to detect more objects. The system can simultaneously scan and receive radar returns from aircraft, ground vehicles, buildings and people.
Reducing the weight of these onboard systems for eVTOL aircraft, too, is important because it adds range to these short haulers.
The interview with Xu pivoted from Honeywell’s advanced technology to making a business case for eVTOL aircraft and the numerous players currently vying for a piece of the market.
“Do we expect all these companies to succeed?” asked Xu. “No. There will be a group that has the financial backing, talent and partnerships to succeed. We are seeing those leaders emerging.”
Some technological challenges remain, he said. Will the batteries and motors be good enough to power successive eVTOL operations and will the flight range remain limited?
“Many of the initial technical questions have been solved,” said Xu. “The challenge now is to move toward certification and initial operations.”
This new form of air transportation is getting a boost from various governments worldwide. On Aug. 3, 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in keeping with the Biden Administration’s goal of combatting climate change, hosted its first-ever White House Summit on AAM (see “VFS Members and Staff Participate in US Government Summits,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2022). The event brought together industry executives, federal policymakers, local leaders and academics to discuss AAM, UAS and eVTOL aircraft and how to safely integrate these aircraft into the National Airspace System.
Honeywell participated in the OSTP event and followed up with its own Air Mobility Summit the next month at its Washington, DC, offices to bring together more policymakers, regulators and technology leaders to address the challenges of AAM.
Products & Research
In the airline industry, Honeywell is known as an upscale provider of avionics, engines and aircraft APUs. Over the years, the company has expanded its product offerings.
Honeywell’s partnership with Kariya, Japan-based DENSO, a provider of electric car motors, is a case in point. The partnership will develop and manufacture electric propulsion units for aircraft for the AAM sector, specifically. These lightweight units combine motor controllers, gear assemblies and high-power-density motors into a single integrated unit that connects to the aircraft’s FBW system, sensors and actuators.
The lightweight electric motor for the Lilium Jet weighs about 8.8 lb (4 kg) and produces an output of 135 hp (100 kW).
To add to its power-generation offerings for civil and military sectors, Honeywell, in 2020, acquired Ballard Unmanned Systems, a hydrogen fuel cell provider for UAS. Ballard/ Honeywell has been developing hydrogen fuel cells that will allow UAVs to fly three-times longer than drones using batteries. A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts hydrogen to electricity, which can then propel electric motors on UAVs and larger aircraft.
The hydrogen cells are small and light, adding to their appeal. Honeywell is offering 600-Watt and 1,200-Watt liquid-cooled hydrogen fuel cells for civil, military and paramilitary customers. The hydrogen fuel cells can power aircraft for various operations, including search and rescue, law enforcement, surveillance and reconnaissance, infrastructure inspection and agriculture monitoring. The cells are part of Honeywell’s Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight suite.
Honeywell’s new research and development (R&D) UAM lab in the Deer Valley area of Phoenix opened in Spring 2022. The facility’s main purpose is to develop and showcase Honeywell’s latest technology for the UAM/UAS market. The technology includes the FBW system and advanced sidestick controllers, with the overarching goal of modernizing the traditional glass cockpit, according to Xu.
A related goal is to help develop SVO for these next-generation urban air taxis by creating a unified approach to avionics and other systems. Creating these compact systems is a key to the success of these air taxis.
In practical terms, the lab helps keep Honeywell one step ahead in the emerging UAM/UAS market. Honeywell’s R&D unit also considers the big picture challenges facing these aircraft, such as how to fly these new aircraft in the already-crowded US airspace system. At present, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides air traffic service for more than 45,000 daily flights, carrying 2.9 million airline passengers, across 29 million square miles. The number of flights in busy regions, such as the Northeast corridor, is expected to increase in coming years, in part, because of these electric short haulers. That will present an enormous challenge for regulators and operators alike.
Although Honeywell may not display its green stripes overtly, the company is keenly aware that the UAM/UAS sector is part of a much larger goal of reducing harmful emissions caused by conventionally powered aircraft.
It remains to be seen how many of the current eVTOL and eCTOL developers will survive the difficult path ahead to certify aircraft capable of providing short-haul passenger and cargo service. In coming months, FAA, EASA and other regulators will be scrutinizing the leading developers of all-electric aircraft regarding certification, to ensure these aircraft can operate safely in controlled airspace.
The years of hype for clean, battery-powered aircraft will finally have a chance to prove whether it will justify the economic viability of passenger and freight carrying eVTOL aircraft.
“A theoretical future would see eVTOLs initially functioning as air taxis and cargo transportation in more densely populated areas,” concluded Montes. “From a big-picture perspective, this market still has to prove itself commercially.”
Regardless of how the field of competitors shakes out, aerospace veteran Honeywell will be there to provide avionics and other new products to developers of this new, clean form of air transportation.
About the Author
Robert W. Moorman is a freelance writer specializing in various facets of the fixed-wing and rotary-wing air transportation business. With more than 30 years of experience, his writing clients include several of the leading aviation magazines targeting the civil and military markets.
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