FLYING Magazine

The Navy is upgrading display panels in CH-53 Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters with off-the-shelf tablets—a solution it says saves both time and money.

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) began installing the system, dubbed Mission Data Extender (MDE), in December and said it represents the first fully integrated, hard-mounted commercial tablet to be used as a primary mission display on a naval aircraft.

“This is a huge step toward open architecture, innovative solutions to mission-data presentation,” Lieutenant Commander Neil Whitesell, in-service avionics systems project officer for the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office, said in a statement. “We did it at low cost, fast, and we provided a major capability improvement to the warfighter.” 

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The CH-53’s current primary panel consists of two smart multifunction color displays (SMFCDs) that show hover cueing, ownship position, threat reports, route/waypoint information, moving map, and real-time, forward-looking infrared (FLIR). But the system is also aging.

“The SMFCD is currently suffering from reliability and reparability issues that reduce availability on the flight line and hinder readiness,” NAVAIR said.

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The MDE system provides the capability of the legacy SMFCD by deploying both developmental and nondevelopmental commercial/government off-the-shelf components but at less than one-third the price of an SMFCD upgrade, NAVAIR said.

“The CH-53E now has an aircraft-powered, Wi-Fi-based mission display capable of seamless interoperability with several carry-on data terminals and capable of walk-on/walk-off expeditionary mission planning,” Whitesell said. 

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