Avionics News July 2020 - 42

BELOW: Spirit Aeronautics is doing a USAF E-9A Widget refit.
RIGHT:An Eagle digital audio system replaces aging SAIC equipment.

LARGE SHOPS TAKE LARGE PRECAUTIONS
Continued from page 41

and captures especially for discretionary items, and one of
those is avionics," Wilken said. "Some customers did call and
say that because the aircraft was down it was a good time for
maintenance, and the paint and interior work held up as well."
Wilken isn't sure of the business outlook. He said one
plausible theory is that commercial airline travelers may look
to business aviation to try to get a feel for it as long as the
sticker shock doesn't scare them off. "I have heard that these
types of travelers normally start with fractional ownership,"
but he noted that fractional activity is way down now. "We are
trying to be optimistic but realistic, as well," he said. "We are
letting our customers know that we are here and available as
they go through struggles with their business."
The other possibility is that working remotely will catch
on so well that there will be more conference calls and virtual
meetings, which will reduce business travel.
Not all shops were as lucky as Elliott to have as many
business and general aviation projects in the pipeline. At Spirit
Aeronautics at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus,
Ohio, the COVID-19 crisis had an immediate impact on
commercial work in the shop. By early May, the shop still had
a staff of 20 employees after having to lay off three people.
Fortunately, the team was working on a U.S. Air Force
E-9A Widget (a modified civil deHavilland Dash 8) that
the military uses as a surveillance platform over the Gulf of
Mexico to provide telemetry and radio relays during air-to-air
weapon system tests. Spirit puts a large aircraft like this one in
a hangar leased from a Signature FBO. It modified the same
aircraft a decade ago with new cockpit avionics to enhance the
safety of operations.
The Spirit project on the two aircraft is to replace the aging
custom analog radio management system with an Eagle audio
system from Eagle Copters. The original system was installed
on the aircraft for the Air Force 20 years ago by SAIC. The
42

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july

2020

new digital audio system will allow two pilots and three other
crew members to manage two VHF, eight UHF and two HF
radios used to contact other aircraft, the Coast Guard and
a variety of military aircraft and air traffic controllers. It is
difficult to have a system to manage 10 radios, but the Eagle
Copters system developed for law enforcement, EMS and
special-mission helicopters is perfect for the job. It protects
against electromagnetic interference on an aircraft that
employs a powerful phased array radar, and the Eagle audio
system meets D0-160 standards.
Spirit had already installed an Eagle digital system on one
of these aircraft earlier in the year and aimed to finish the
second in mid-June. Crews on these aircraft make sure boats
and aircraft in the Gulf stay clear of live missile launches and
other military operations over the Gulf. They operate from
Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida. The E-9A
downlinks data to a range safety officer who determines where
live fire can occur. The Air Force sends up drones, and fighters
flying out of Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach
shoot them down.



Avionics News July 2020

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