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By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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Honeywell advances flight testing of radar for urban air mobility

Honeywell recently completed another round of flight testing on its IntuVue RDR-84K, a compact radar system that is being targeted to the urban air mobility market.

Honeywell RDR-84K radar
Honeywell’s RDR-84K radar installed on an Airbus AS350 helicopter for recent flight testing in Arizona. Elan Head Photo

Mounted on an Airbus AS350 helicopter, the radar system was flown out of Honeywell facilities in Phoenix, Arizona, over a three-week period in October and November. According to flight test personnel, the test program took the aircraft over roads, power lines and towers, and over and around mountains and canyons, to evaluate the RDR-84K’s ability to detect obstacles and terrain. The helicopter also performed multiple flights with designated “intruder aircraft” to test the system’s ability to detect other air traffic.

This was Honeywell’s second flight test campaign for the RDR-84K, following an initial round of testing about a year-and-a-half ago. Those tests laid the groundwork for NASA’s own flight test program using the radar, which launched this summer. NASA has mounted the system — which it is calling Digital Active Phased Array, or DAPA-Lite — on a fixed-wing TigerShark drone, with the goal of informing minimum operational performance standards for detect-and-avoid systems on unmanned aircraft.

As Honeywell project manager Bindu Chava explained, the radar system is “a key enabler for us as we move more towards autonomy, because at that time you won’t have a pilot navigating.” However, Honeywell also expects the radar system to be used on piloted aircraft before then, including early eVTOL models as well as more conventional aircraft types. The system could also have applications on military ground vehicles.

The RDR-84K has a phased array design in which radio waves are steered electronically, eliminating the need for moving parts. It uses multiple beams that scan simultaneously, allowing it to detect different inputs such as other aircraft, terrain, and landing zones at the same time. According to Honeywell, the system is software adaptable so that users can customize its operation and performance parameters — adjusting the radar’s range, for example, or instructing it to focus on certain types of objects.

Honeywell announced in June of this year that it had signed an agreement with an unnamed air taxi developer to supply multiple RDR-84K units for the developer’s prototype aircraft. Chava declined to specify that developer, but confirmed that the radar system is also being flight tested on customer aircraft.

The RDR-84K is one of a suite of new products that Honeywell is developing specifically for the emerging eVTOL market, where weight and space will be even more critical than on conventional helicopters. “We are designing products that leverage our decades of experience in safety, integration, certification — all of that — but we are miniaturizing them,” Chava said. “It has to be in a form factor, at a price point, that makes sense for these vehicles — we cannot take our existing products and put them in these vehicles.”

The company has already announced agreements with eVTOL developers Jaunt Air Mobility, Pipistrel, Vertical Aerospace, and Volocopter, as well as with eViation, developer of the Alice electric airplane. Honeywell is also collaborating with the automotive components manufacturer Denso on hybrid and fully electric powertrains for urban air mobility aircraft.

Editor’s note: This article is based on an in-depth report on Honeywell’s urban air mobility efforts in the forthcoming January-February 2020 issue of Vertiflite, the magazine of the Vertical Flight Society

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