Thales FlytLINK provides inflight connectivity for helicopters

 Robert Squire and its Thales FlytLINK inflight connectivity product for helicopters at Helitech.
Thales’ Robert Squire and its FlytLINK inflight connectivity product for helicopters at Helitech.

Thales has an inflight connectivity solution for helicopters that uses the new Iridium NEXT constellation of low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites.

On display at the recent Helitech 2018 exhibition in Amsterdam, Thales says FlytLINK can provide 100% global coverage, including across oceans and polar regions.

It adds FlytLINK can provide reliable satellite communications for cockpit and crew operations and is said to be future-proofed for next-generation higher speed services.

Another benefit of using LEO satellites is the lower latency, or time delay, compared with geostationary satellites, thanks to their lower orbital altitude.

Thales FlytLINK operates using the 66-strong Iridium NEXT satellite constellation and the Iridium Certus service.

It says that in terms of safety services, FlytLINK will support streaming flight data, FANS 1/A, CPDLC, ADS-C, Push-to-Talk (PTT) voice, cockpit four-wire voice and ACARS SBD. The 3.2kg LRU also includes an embedded 802.11n secured Wi-Fi access point.

FlytLINK will also enable cockpit operations, such as electronic flight bag pairing, real-time weather and active aircraft tracking.

An intermediate gain antenna (IGA) can support 708 kbps download speeds and 352kbps uploads. An active low-gain antenna can support to 176 kbps data and voice, while a small low-gain patch antenna can support lower speeds over Block One Iridium satellites.

A helicopter's rotor bladesHelicopter-based inflight connectivity has often been tricky. Inmarsat updated its L-band SwiftBroadband service a few years ago to work better through a helicopter rotor.

SwiftBroadband’s original short-burst waveform was extended to include longer bursts of data.

The so-called high-data rate (or HDR) bearer also has the benefit of providing faster speeds for fixed-wing aircraft, giving aircraft operators and passengers a faster and more efficient broadband experience when browsing the internet, checking emails, accessing instant messages and using streaming services while in the air.

SwiftBroadband’s original short-burst waveform was not well suited for use on rotary-winged aircraft as the rotor tended to break up the signal. But the introduction of the new HDR waveform made a big difference.

The newer interleaving bearers can rearrange information packets across a longer burst, making it more robust in tough conditions, including under helicopter rotors.

When I last spoke to Inmarsat, it said it had no plans to introduce its GX Aviation service for helicopters as the faster, high-bandwidth Ka-band signals weren’t suited to passing through rotors without being broken up.

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