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Airborne Platforms Embrace Open Standards

Open standards like the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) continue to make airborne computing systems more efficient. Numerous FACE-compatible products and tools are emerging to help smooth system implementations.


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The U.S. DoD has fully embraced the idea that the reduction of costs and complexity of the open approach are just too attractive to ignore. Particularly in the past couple years open standards that have been long in the works now seem to getting full support. Driving this trend is the recognition that it's a waste of time and money to recreate software implementation for every airborne system design.

Along such lines, the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) standard defines the software computing environment and interfaces designed to support the development of portable components across the general-purpose, safety and security profiles. FACE makes use of industry standards for distributed communications, programming languages, graphics, operating systems and other areas. Its goal overall is to establish a common computing software infrastructure supporting portable, capability-specific software components across DoD avionics systems.

Supplier-Independent Operating Environment

The FACE Consortium has developed a supplier-independent, standardized environment for DoD aviation systems allowing software components to be rapidly migrated across systems conforming to the FACE Standard. Launching in 2010, the FACE Consortium set out to take a collaborative approach to develop a common operating environment supporting portability and reuse of software components across DoD aviation systems.

Working its way through initial growing pains now in the past, the FACE effort has evolved with a FACE 2.0 version releasing in 2013. Edition 2.0 of the FACE Technical Standard included the FACE Data Model, Language Run-Times and Component Frameworks, Protocol Mediation Services, Streaming Media Services and expanded definitions of Units of Portability. Those addition help support capabilities such as streaming video, broader language support and more. Over the past 12 months several embedded industry hardware and software vendors have created technologies and solutions that align with and support the FACE standard.

In an example of recent FACE activity, Rockwell Collins earlier this month announced that its Missionized Flight Management Software (MFMS-1000) has passed Verification Authority tests and inspections and has been issued the industry's first FACE Verification Statement. FACE verification is the process of determining the conformance of a software implementation to specification requirements of the FACE Technical Standard, a standard of The Open Group. The FACE version of Rockwell's MFMS-1000 is designed to enable the Navy to affordably meet Required Navigation Performance Area Navigation (RNP RNAV) requirements on aircraft currently without this capability such as the AV-8B, V-22 (Figure 1) and MH-60R/S, as well as those used by the other services.

Figure 1
The FACE version of Rockwell’s MFMS-1000 is designed to enable the Navy to affordably meet RNP RNAV requirements on aircraft currently without this capability such as this V-22.

The MFMS-1000 is a reusable software product developed as hardware and architecture agnostic, meaning it can be ported across different avionics systems from both Rockwell Collins and other vendors. MFMS-1000 provides full civil airspace interoperability while ensuring timely and efficient mission planning. Receiving a FACE verification statement is an important step in the process of certifying the MFMS-1000 as conformant to the FACE Technical Standard. Rockwell Collins is a sponsor and founding member of the FACE Consortium, and holds multiple leadership positions at the steering committee and subcommittee levels.

Helicopter Avionics System

FACE also played a role in the new Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) system, Helionix from Airbus Helicopters, a division of Airbus Group. Wind River announced in April that Helionix is using the Wind River VxWorks 653 Platform. The Helionix avionics system, which includes the certified H175 and H145 civilian rotorcrafts, significantly improves helicopter management, performance and safety (Figure 2). VxWorks 653 powers the multi-function display, flight management and control systems, as well as the auto pilot of the new aircrafts. In addition, it provides resource management and partitioning capabilities that allow multiple independent applications of different safety criticality levels to run on a single target platform.

Figure 2
The Helionix avionics system uses VxWorks 653 to run the multi-function display, flight management and control systems, as well as the auto pilot of the helicopters..

A part of the Wind River product portfolio for trusted systems, VxWorks 653 is a COTS platform for delivering safety-critical, IMA applications. For applications with strict safety and/or ARINC 653 time and space partitioning requirements, Wind River touts VxWorks 653 Platform as the platform of choice to meet the FACE Safety Profile. VxWorks 653 enables a wide range of commercial and military applications to be deployed on FACE platforms.

Pre-integrated FACE Compliant Box

On the hardware side, Abaco Systems in March announced its FORCE2 Open Reference Computing Environment designed to support the planned development of safety-critical, DO-254/DO-178 certifiable applications compliant with the FACE initiative (Figure 3). The company demonstrated FORCE2 at Quad-A in April. This rugged, pre-integrated small form factor system for mission computing and avionics display comprises a high TRL (technology readiness level) SBC314 3U VPX single board computer and graphics card housed in a robust enclosure. The FORCE2 differentiates from alternative solutions in that it is supported by DO-254 artifacts suitable for use in systems requiring Design Assurance Level (DAL) A, the highest level of assurance.

Figure 3
The FORCE2 Open Reference Computing Environment is designed to support development of safety-critical, DO-254/DO-178 certifiable applications compliant with the FACE initiative.

According to Abaco Systems certification is a huge cost incurred by in-house development of safety-critical systems which, allied to the high cost of system development, can make such solutions prohibitively expensive. Such in-house developments are typically high risk, with associated potential impact on cost and schedule over-run. The FORCE2 can substantially reduce those high costs, and also represents minimal risk in that it is pre-integrated and built using proven, high TRL hardware and software components.

The FORCE2 features either a 1.4 GHz quad-core or a 1.8 GHz 8-core NXP (formerly Freescale) QoriQ Power Architecture processor with up to 4 Gbytes of memory. Advanced graphics capability is provided by an AMD Radeon E8860 GPU with 2GBytes of DDR5 memory. A range of avionics I/O is supported including ARINC-429 and MIL-STD-1553. DVI and VGA video outputs are featured. The FORCE2's software environment-operating system and I/O services-is aligned with the requirements of the FACE initiative, and includes support for VxWorks 653 with OpenGL SC.

Cockpit Display Collaboration

Representing a collaborative FACE effort, Core Avionics & Industrial, Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, ENSCO Avionics, and Lynx Software Technologies early this year joined forces to demonstrate the first FACE aligned cockpit display application at the Army Aviation FACE Technical Interchange Meeting in Huntsville, AL. The integrated demonstration stack leveraged key offerings by each of the contributing companies including ENSCO Avionics' IData Tool Suite with IDataMap; Core Avionics & Industrial's safety critical OpenGL Driver; Lynx Software Technologies' LynxOS-178 real-time operating system and the VPX3-131 3U VPX SBC and XMC-715  graphics controller both from Curtiss-Wright.

The collaborating companies provided a demonstration of the FACE architecture using all of the FACE segments. The two user applications contained in the Portable Component Segment represent interchangeable software components from different suppliers. These applications when linked into the FACE architecture communicated with the IData RunTime in the Graphics services section of the Platform Specific Services segment via the Transport Services Segment.

The IData RunTime Library application receives data via UDP from the TCP/IP stack from the LynxOS-178 RTOS. This data was supplied by another application (X-Plane) running external to the FACE stack and supplying air data. The cockpit display was then rendered through the I/O services segment via a Core Avionics & Industrial safety critical OpenGL driver. The entire FACE stack was run on Curtiss-Wright hardware, including their SBC and Graphic subsystem.

FACE-Compatible Display

Compatibility to FACE is also reaching into the display market. In April display vendor IEE showcased a new FACE compatible architecture display product at the Quad-A show. The "Portable Components Segment" of the FACE Architecture is designed to be independent of the lower level hardware and software Input/Output (I/O) functions that are typically unique to each avionics device. The IEE 6- x 8-inch FACE compatible display can be used as an avionics platform on almost any aircraft, offers common aircraft data interfaces, runs an operational flight program (OFP) designed to FACE guidelines, and is ready to host FACE-compatible apps that meet a customer's system requirements. These features create lifecycle management efficiencies and facilitate platform-to-platform portability.

The portability of the FACE apps makes the addition of avionics functions, such as moving maps, a quick integration. The FACE compatible display will receive data in the FACE payload data format from Enabling Technology and Innovation's (ETI) Avionics Simulation Environment (link is external) (ASE). The ASE product provides dynamic aircraft data to OFPs over Ethernet and MIL-STD-1553 data buses.

Abaco Systems
Huntsville, AL
(866) 652-2226

Tampa, FL
(813) 990-0603

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions
Ashburn, VA.
(703) 779-7800.

ENSCO Avionics
Endicott, NY
(607) 786-9000

Van Nuys, CA
(818) 787-0311

Lynx Software Technologies
San José, CA
(408) 979-3900

Rockwell Collins
Cedar Rapids, IA
(319) 295-1000

Wind River
Alameda, CA
(510) 748-4100