System to Improve Helicopter Communications
A new technology developed by Hughes Network Systems could improve a helicopter operator’s ability to transmit satellite-based communications.
Hughes Defense and Intelligence Systems division recently demonstrated a 360-degree beyond-line-of-sight SATCOM capability that transmitted high-definition video through rotating helicopter blades, said Wayne Marhefka, the division’s senior director.
“The beyond-line-of-sight SATCOM for rotary wing platforms is a technology that we’ve been working on since 2012,” he said. “We’ve been evolving it and … now that we have perfected it … [we] are ready to go into production.”
During the demonstration that took place in late 2016, the company integrated a Hughes HM200 airborne modem and two antennas onto a NorthStar Aviation 407 multi-role attack helicopter. Hughes was then able to show that it could provide continuous HD video through a SATCOM link, Marhefka said.
Previously, because of the positioning of satellites, helicopters could only transmit SATCOM-based communications when the rotorcraft was going in a certain direction, he said.
“It doesn’t do you a lot of good to have to say, ‘Well, I’m only going to fly in this direction because that’s the only way I can get my video,’” he said. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors on fixed-wing platforms “don’t have this problem because they put it on the fuselage and they … have much more real estate to put it on.”
Hughes’ system can be integrated onto any helicopter platform due to its small form and easy roll-on/roll-off installation, which can be done in less than 15 minutes, he said. The antennas weigh around 20 pounds each, he added.
The company has been working to reduce the system’s weight for years. At one point the antenna weighed more than 60 pounds. Its smaller form will make it more attractive to customers, he said.
Hughes is currently in talks with companies such as Northrop Grumman and Boeing to integrate the technologies onto the MQ-8 Fire Scout and V-22 Osprey, respectively, Marhefka said.
The company first began working with Northrop three years ago when its antenna technology was much heavier.
“The antenna itself was 60 [pounds] and everything else was approaching 80 pounds,” he said. “That was too much weight for that customer to stomach. So right now they’re saying, ‘Well, if you’ve reduced the weight that much, please come back and talk to us.’”
The system can be used on any helicopter, military or civilian, and for a variety of mission scenarios including medical transport and search and rescue.
Hughes is currently awaiting a contract award before it enters production, Marhefka said. It is examining a number of requests for proposals.
“We’re going to be submitting those and then hopefully getting contract awards and then hopefully sometime in 2017 start producing these units,” he said.