Boeing has selected two suppliers for key elements of the 777X avionics system and digital backbone, yielding the status quo for some Boeing 787 providers and a changing of the guard for others. The contracts are the latest in a series of key 777X awards from Boeing, which aims to complete firm configuration for the widebody around mid-2015.

In the upset department, Boeing has selected General Electric’s open architecture common core system (CCS) for the 777X data backbone rather than the Honeywell-provided aircraft information management system and Rockwell Collins full-duplex-switched Ethernet backbone for the 787.

Rockwell Collins by contrast has much of the same equipment on the 777X as the 787, including cockpit displays and the integrated surveillance system, but the win represents a three-fold increase in the avionics maker’s onboard content compared to what is installed on the legacy 777. Kent Statler, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Rockwell Collins Commercial Systems, says the design work will begin in earnest after Jan. 1 and finish in 2019.

The 777X will have five Rockwell Collins 15.1-in. landscape format LCDs in the cockpit, the same basic displays used in the 787, Boeing 737 MAX and—through a supplemental type certificate—on the Boeing 757 and 767. “We’re sweeping the flight decks at Boeing,” says Statler. Boeing also selected Rockwell Collins for the 777X flight control stand, digital audio system, mode control panel and primary control damper. 

In July, Rockwell Collins announced that it had won the flight control module portion of the 777X’s fly-by-wire (FBW) system being built by BAE Systems. The two companies currently supply the 777 primary flight-control electronics and autoland system but will enhance these to control the more complex flight surfaces of the 777X. BAE will develop the integrated flight-control electronics (IFCE) and air-data function, which will manage the overall FBW system. Rockwell Collins will develop the flight control module which forms part of the IFCE. In addition to controlling the standard surfaces, the 777X flight control module will include computing functionality that supports the aircraft’s load alleviation, high lift and folding wing tip features.

The 777X displays will have built-in graphics processors that are upgraded compared to the 737 MAX and 787 to future-proof the widebody for advanced features that may include high-definition airport moving maps, synthetic vision and enhanced vision and various Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) “In” mapping functions. Statler says the features were on “road maps” the company discussed with Boeing but were not part of the initial award.

Like the 787, the 777X’s Integrated Surveillance System (ISS) will include Rockwell Collins’s MultiScan weather radar, traffic collision and avoidance, Mode S surveillance (including ADS-B “Out” and “In” capability) and terrain awareness and warning system. 

Unlike the 787, however, the 777X will not have dual Rockwell Collins head-up guidance systems as standard equipment. Statler says Boeing made the devices an option, since many operators will have mixed fleets, and head-up displays are not available for the legacy fleet. 

Statler would not comment on the contractual arrangements with Boeing, but he says Rockwell Collins used a “very creative” model with Boeing to bring “value” to the program and to “protect the value that we need for our investment and for our shareholders.” Rockwell Collins CEO Kelly Ortberg told analysts in October the company would change its business models in part by charging certain customers for changes, delays and “additional scope” to contracted avionics systems, part of a new focus on improving cash flow. 

Statler says business models must evolve in much the same way as technology. “You have to continue to look at how business model innovation can bring value to both sides as well,” he says, adding that there’s not a “dramatic” difference between the 787 and 777X contracts. 

George Kiefer, vice president and general manager of GE Aviation’s North American Avionics, says Boeing’s selection of the CCS “is a validation of our open architecture approach.” The system is a “platform on which we host the best of the best,” he adds.  

Just as with the 787’s avionics system, the CCS will use a network of remote data concentrators located throughout the aircraft to consolidate data from systems and sensors. The 787 CCS runs on the VxWorks 653 real-time operating system developed by Wind River, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel.

“The CCS will run with more than 50 different application software systems from more than 20 different suppliers,” explains Kiefer. “One of the things that Boeing wanted to do was be able to field new and updated software in a more timely and cost-effective manner. Our system is certificated separately, so if someone develops updates for another system, they do not have to come back and re-test the whole system. It dramatically reduces the cost and time involved.” 

The 777X CCS will be adapted to interface with the two-way Arinc 629 digital databus used in the current 777 and will enable Boeing to retain several existing systems. The Arinc 629 protocol was developed especially for the 777, and each aircraft is equipped with 11 of these pathways. 

GE was also picked to provide the enhanced airborne flight recorder for the 777X that will record flight crew audio, flight data and data link communications, and store information in non-volatile, crash-survivable memory. The system will be developed by GE’s facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while the remote data concentrators will be provided by the GE site in Cheltenham, England. GE is also developing the GE9X turbofans, an electrical load management system, backup generator and converter for the 777X.

Boeing is due to begin issuing a further raft of awards over the next few days and weeks. Requests for proposals are due later this month regarding systems and actuation for new elements of the 777’s composite wing, including the 12-ft. folding section at each tip.