Red Air Gets a High-Tech Upgrade With Garmin's New Tandem Cockpit

Military.com gets a look at Garmin's tandem cockpit experience, head-up display and integrated flight deck as it debuts at the Farnborough International Airshow. (Screengrab from Military.com video)
Military.com gets a look at Garmin's tandem cockpit experience, head-up display and integrated flight deck as it debuts at the Farnborough International Airshow. (Screengrab from Military.com video)

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Forget about paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for custom flight ops integration each time it needs to be loaded into a cockpit display. Garmin officials say its new G3000 "tandem cockpit" military avionics suite instead gives pilots a whole package deal.

Tactical Air Support Inc., or TacAir, this week announced at the Farnborough Airshow it has begun integrating the Garmin G3000 cockpit on Northrop Grumman's F-5E/F fighter aircraft for adversary aircraft training for the U.S. Navy and Air Force.

The cockpit display does away with cluttered, mechanical knobs and switches. Instead, the sequenced screen gives pilots the ability to flip through missions, sensors and other displays for more focused control.

"There are some modifications being made to be an adversarial air platform," said Jonathan Baker, senior program manager for aviation at Garmin.

While "lots of people ... are doing upgrades to aircraft to try to make them adversary aircraft, using a bunch of smaller screens dedicated to individual purposes, our screen is able to be used as a multi-function screen and bring in mission systems and display them on one larger screen," he told Military.com this week here at the show.

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Baker said the integration should be complete on the F-5 aircraft by the end of this year.

The result is a bigger image, brighter colors and higher resolution than legacy systems, designed to perform any operation from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to attack and adversary air training.

"It's a more modern solution," Baker said, adding that the open-architecture structure is a good fit for fourth-generation systems, which use more dissociated avionics.

Joe Borrell, senior field service engineer with L3 Technologies, said the system, a partnership between L3, ForceX and Garmin, is more cost-effective as a result. He explained that most military aircraft have a tightly integrated cockpit and mission system.

"It's very expensive, and it's hard to make changes to," he said. "This is a federated version of that where you have a commercial, flight-certified avionics [system] that does all of the flying, and then you have a separate, rugged mission computer that ties in, and then through a third-party interface we've now made it [so] that it seems like it's one system, but they're two different things."

The G3000 incorporates commercial, general avionics -- "the best of the airline world" -- and then by "hitting a button, you're back in the tactical world," Borrell said.

The first integration of the system was on Textron's Scorpion, which recently flew in the Air Force's light attack demonstrations at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, until the experiment's recent conclusion.

"It's grown from there," Borrell said. "We expect quite a few customers to be interested in this."

In addition to Scorpion, Diamond Aircraft's DART-550 has been fitted with the system, Baker said.

"It's streamlined and modular," Borrell said, adding different sensors can be incorporated into the tandem system. "So you don't have to change the actual [operational flight program]."

He added it makes it easier to integrate newer technologies for a pilot because a radar or a camera or radio is "treated the same way," with similar controls "for any one of those things."

In addition to ISR and light attack, the system would work on maritime surveillance; the companies are also working to integrate more advanced air-to-air radar interface capabilities.

"It's the whole package," Borrell said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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