Watching Boeing’s 737 MAX soar into flight on its maiden voyage was an exhilarating moment for Rockwell Collins Senior Systems Engineers Emmanuel Derouillat, Malik Saleh and the 737 MAX engineering team located in Bothell, Washington. As the first line of contact, the team interacted with their Boeing counterparts daily regarding the 737 MAX Displays System (MDS) — and other Rockwell Collins systems on the aircraft — ensuring everything was ready for the first flight milestone earlier this year.
“It was a great experience to be there for the first flight,” shared Derouillat. “It was such a powerful moment, standing side by side with the Boeing engineers we’ve worked with over the past few years. We were one team of proud engineers watching history unfold together.”
With over 3,000 firm orders from more than 60 global customers, the 737 MAX is Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft, building on the 737’s reputation as the best-selling commercial airliner in history. According to the aircraft manufacturer, the 737 MAX will have the lowest operating costs of any single-aisle aircraft with 14 percent more fuel efficiency and the ability to fly farther than competing regional aircraft.
Windows to the avionics
Rockwell Collins’ MDS is one of the crowning features of the 737 MAX flight deck. The sleek design is the result of replacing, revising and relocating 23 different displays and controls from the legacy 737 aircraft. This included switching six 8-by-10-inch displays to four configurable 15.1-inch large-format liquid crystal displays (LCDs) to enhance pilots’ awareness of their environment and present information in a user-friendly way. The new flight deck weighs less, costs less and has more capability, including automatic access to critical maintenance information.
The displays are beautiful. They convey so much information and have a lot of capability in terms of safety for the pilots. – Captain James Hanley, Boeing Test & Evaluation Pilot
“With the current Next-Generation 737 model, the display system had very limited maintenance capabilities. In general, the aircraft maintenance actions involved going to the individual systems to investigate issues. Now, the maintenance information is available through the displays,” said Tim Fannin, principal systems engineer and technical program manager for the 737 MAX program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “That means less time at the gate and better visibility into how the aircraft is functioning.”
Because the displays are one of the most complex systems on the aircraft, they are being installed early in the manufacturing process, added Fannin.
“Our displays are the windows to the avionics,” he said. “We are hooked to everything, providing visibility into which systems are wired correctly and enabling the aircraft manufacturer to troubleshoot the entire aircraft during build.”
Planning for success
Rockwell Collins won the flight display award in 2012 and the development schedule has been an aggressive one. To meet tight deadlines, employees from program management, engineering and operations came together at the very beginning of the program to share knowledge and collaborate.
As part of that early collaboration, Phil Meek, a test technician in Bellevue, Iowa, relocated to Cedar Rapids for 18 months to work alongside hardware engineers, test engineers and the transition team. Meek developed the testing and troubleshooting processes that will help ensure a smooth transition from design to manufacturing of the computers and controls.
Because of the relationships established during his co-location, Meek now has a network of engineers he can contact to resolve issues that arise during the building and testing of the display systems. He also was able to influence test equipment designs, recommending development of a test station that accommodated multiple circuit boards as opposed to a single one.
Along with co-location, the 737 MAX program benefits from the team of systems and software engineers in Bothell — less than 30 miles from Boeing’s Renton Production Facility where the 737 MAX is built. With a complete 737 MAX system on-site, the engineering team acts as Rockwell Collins’ face to the customer. They work closely with Boeing to conduct technical discussions, integrate systems and solve complex problems, both in-house and at Boeing’s production facility.
According to Saleh, close customer proximity has been invaluable to this program’s success. “Face-to-face interaction with Boeing enables us to be their eyes and ears and relay valuable feedback to Cedar Rapids engineering teams,” Saleh explained. “As a result, we’ve been able to solve complex problems more efficiently and ensure that Boeing’s expectations are being met.”
In addition to witnessing the first 737 MAX flight, Saleh and the Bothell team were present when the first MDS powered on. With its sleek design, larger panels and enhanced visual display, the MDS drew a lot of attention. “It was quite an amazing experience and an exciting moment to witness,” Saleh recalled. “The event created quite a buzz on the factory floor and everyone wanted to get a glimpse of it.”
While the new aircraft features some of Rockwell Collins’ latest technologies — including our digital Head-up Guidance System (HGS™) — we almost missed winning this flight deck award, recalled John Schneider, principal program manager for Boeing programs.
“We were in danger of not being on the 737 MAX at all,” recalled Schneider. “We won the flight display award by providing Boeing a display system with more power, advanced display capabilities and the ability to integrate key maintenance functions — something Boeing wanted to do for some time. With two-and-a-half times more content on the 737 MAX than we have on the Next-Generation 737 and production rates that are five times higher than the 787 or the 777X, this is a win we will be celebrating for years to come.”
-By Annette Juergens Busbee and Kalindi Garvin