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Ensuring Smooth Navigation for an Aircraft Component Company

Ensuring Smooth Navigation for an Aircraft Component Company

The Client is an electronics company serving aerospace, defense, and information technology markets globally, with operations spanning across fifty countries. The company is a European leader in the avionics market and is one of the world’s top three suppliers of cockpit and cabin electronics, onboard utilities, power generation equipment, and in-flight entertainment systems for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

Navigation woes...

The electronics major was facing problems with the back-up navigation system it had created, in majority of the aircrafts, for world’s leading aircraft manufacturers. Demands of a back-up Navigation system from other customers with reduced costs also put pressure on the client for cost optimization. This led to the client’s need for navigation backup software, which could provide relative path, position information and sequencing of the navigation flight plan.

Right or left...

And this is when the client brought HCL into the picture to leverage its domain expertise and strength in software product engineering. As soon as the work started, it observed that algorithms used for trajectory, guidance and flight-planning functions in navigation software were very complex. HCL faced technical problems in understanding these algorithms initially, and had frequent interactions with the client’s technical team to solve this problem. Due to this, understanding and creating of Software Requirements and specifications took longer than initially planned but because of the in-depth study – the understanding was deeper.

In addition to this, the testing environment provided by customer was not stable. Initially, the absence of a compiler (due to its high cost) led to the software being checked only after an initial run. Secondly, the simulation software for the integration bench underwent multiple changes and was not fully operational for some time. This impacted the free testing and debugging of the code being created for the Flight Navigation System.

Finally, a sense of direction...

What came up finally was a back-up navigation system software embedded in Multipurpose Control Display Unit (MCDU) for the client. MCDU was meant to serve as the main communication interface between the pilot and any connected system like Flight Management. It mainly consisted of a keyboard and display permitting the pilot to enter and read data to and from these connected systems.

In accordance with DO178B standard and Customer Software Development guidelines, the project was executed through three top-level software lifecycle groups of processes, namely

  • Planning process: Defines and coordinates the activities of the complete software development for the project
  • Development process: The development process produces the software product. These processes are the software requirements process, the software design process and the software coding process
  • Verification process: This process ensures the correctness and confidence of the software life cycle processes and their outputs. Verification activities cover all the processes, from the planning process to the development process, and also include checking of the verification activities.

These processes were further broken down into several activities performed by different teams, which took them close to 20,000 hours to complete.

Since, the software development was iterative each new software (documents, software components) built included the previous one with corresponding updates, and new additions. Also, while performing the Software-Hardware integration testing, HCL suggested some critical improvements to the existing system requirements and additions to the requirements were accepted by the client.

In addition to this, the client was responsible for creation of the target environment setting to enable unit testing. With no expertise available at the client’s end, HCL’s onsite domain experts and engineers helped the client in setting up the target environment.

The right direction...

The solution underwent rigorous testing, before being accepted by both the client and its end customer. The client’s customer performed the lab tests and flight tests at the client’s test facility and gave its clearance to the use of this solution in the aircraft. The product also got clearance for use in the aircraft by the respective certification authority.

Post implementation, the client witnessed a significant cost advantage, with as high as 85% of validation.

Direction of the future...

The relationship with the client that started in 2001 has been evolving and growing stronger with each passing day. Flight Navigation System was among one of the major assignments that HCL has done for the client. Successful completion of the navigation system software design project was a major milestone in the relationship between the two companies. The other subsystems that have been worked on during the course of the relationship include: Flight Management Systems, Flight Warning Systems, Cockpit Display Systems, Flight Control Systems, and Air Traffic Management Systems.

The engagement now spans across design, development and test engineering solutions.