Collins Aerospace [RTX] sees the U.S. Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter and other military systems as opportunities for its Perigon flight control computer, which the company announced this week and which is to have at least 20 times the processing power of current Collins Aerospace vehicle management computers.
While Perigon is not on the NGAD flight demonstrator disclosed by the Air Force last year, “we are talking with next generation air framers to try and get our hardware onto their platform by telling them what the capabilities are, and they’re really excited about the low development cost,” Darryl Woods, general manager of flight controls for Collins Aerospace, said in a Zoom interview on July 22.
One significant benefit for NGAD may lie in the weapons adaptability that Perigon is to allow.
“If they’re adding a weapon system that they want to be configurable on into the future so, as weapons advance, our system will make it easier to upgrade than systems in the past from a weapons management standpoint,” Woods said. “If you’re going down the weapons management architecture, putting the Perigon in for flight control, you kind of get it for free. You don’t have to pay for the computer twice. You’ll get it for free because it can host the weapons management software and the flight control software.”
Collins Aerospace said that Perigon will be well-suited for applications, such as NGAD and the Air Force’s Skyborg Vanguard program, as the computer’s flexible, open architecture will allow it to address a diverse set of airframe needs from small, simple data concentrators up to larger, complex, multi-redundant safety-critical control systems.
“We’re building a working [Perigon] protoype that we have and currently performing detailed development and integration testing,” Kim Kinsley, Collins Aerospace’s vice president of environmental and airframe control systems, said in the Zoom interview on July 22. “We’re looking forward to targeting qualification testing sometime in 2022.”
U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy customers are to be able to customize Perigon, according to service needs.
“In addition to having multi-core processors, which creates that 20x power, we do see that as configurable so you can have simplex, duplex, or triplex redundant–meaning different varieties of needs and criticality in the application,” Kinsley said. “It has that flexibility, but at all levels will be still providing that 20x processing power.”
Kinsley mentioned that Collins Aerospace and its predecessor companies have a long history designing and producing flight control computers, dating back to the launch of the flight control computer for the Sikorsky [LMT] CH-53E in 1976.
“We have thousands of flight control computers out in the field,” she said. “We feel like we’re able to bring that field experience and the design and innovation capabilities of Collins to bear.”
At the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show, Collins announced the development of a next-generation vehicle management computer to support autonomous flight–the computer now branded as Perigon in a nod to the mathematical term for a 360-degree angle and the circle of capabilities Collins Aerospace believes Perigon will offer.
Collins Aerospace believes that the open architecture of Perigon will provide the systems flexibility desired by the military services.
“We’re looking toward serving autonomy and fly-by-wire flight control,” Kinsley said. “Cybersecurity is a growing concern and need in the industry, and our hardware has the capability to support those needs. We’re also looking forward to, ‘Can this serve weapons management?’ So as the need for weapon capabilities in especially rotorcraft continue to evolve, we see there is a prime opportunity for Perigon to support that.”
Collins Aerospace likens Perigon to consumer phones, such as the iPhone, that can host applications, based on customer needs.
In addition, Perigon “can perhaps reduce the number of other computers that are on the aircraft,” Kinsley said. “We think that’s an opportunity. If customers are able to use it in that way, they can enjoy space, weight and cost savings as well and potentially even more benefits beyond that.”
The company is looking to get Perigon flight certified by the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of next year. Collins Aerospace believes Perigon will have a range of potential uses, including air transport, aerial firefighting, autonomous systems, the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) rotorcraft to reduce pilot workload in degraded visual environments, and sixth generation fighter aircraft.
The design of Perigon makes it easily re-configurable for various military users, per Collins Aerospace.
“We’re using state of the art technology that’s defined today,” Woods said. “vPXE is our communication platform that we’re using. By using that platform, we’re creating processor modules that slide into the Perigon. Depending on the application, there’s IO cards that slide in. If a customer only needs one processor module, we only put one processor module in.”