Flight Testing the New Jetwave Hardware

September 29, 2015 | Author: Joe Duval

From the cockpit: Honeywell tests JetWave hardware 

Just yesterday we took our B757 test aircraft to the skies for a practice certification flight over the North Sea.  During the flight, the flight test crew plugged in a Wi-Fi router and everyone got on FaceTime to call home. I got to see my son on his seven-month birthday and talk with the grandmas that were babysitting him. As someone who spends a lot of time in the air and who has a young child at home, I know JetWave® will be a true game-changer in how passengers experience air travel. Here’s an inside look at what our team is doing to test Honeywell’s JetWave hardware connection to Inmarsat’s GX Aviation constellation network to help bring this connectivity experience to your future flight.  

To date, we have more than 180 flight hours of JetWave onboard our B757 test aircraft, testing connection from all altitudes, angles and types of weather and speeds. As a test pilot, these flights are some of the most interesting ones we get to fly. There are many manoeuvres to be flown to truly test the quality of the connectivity.  The aircraft must climb and descend, perform normal and high-bank turns, fly at different angles to the satellite, and at different speeds to ensure our antenna is connecting to the satellite.  

First Test Flights: Inside the Boeing 757 Test Plane 

The initial test flight was to ensure the radome and all installed hardware are structurally sound. This involved starting out slow (250 knots and below) and at a medium altitude of 20,000 ft.  Once we confirmed 250 knots at 20,000 ft. was safe, we consider it “cleared” knowing we could come back to the speed if necessary.  Then we climbed up to 35,000 ft., accelerating slowly to the highest speed the airplane is normally cleared to fly, which is .86 Mach or about 500 miles per hour.  As we accelerated to “clear” the speed we made sure there were no adverse vibrations, noises, or leaks in the fuselage. 

Inside insight: we had to cut holes in the fuselage to complete the installation for the mounting and to pass wiring through to the equipment mounted outside the fuselage under the radome.  Once we cleared all the speeds at 35,000 ft. we performed the same procedure at the highest altitude the airplane is meant to operate, which is 42,000 ft.  Because we flight test engines with this airplane, we also climbed to 45,000 ft. to check all speeds. All was good on the flight and we knew the installation was sound and safe to operate the airplane at all our normal altitudes and airspeeds. 

Now to test the new onboard system and its ability to connect. We had to first fly to an area under the “footprint” of the satellite – Western Europe.  We chose Birmingham, UK because of the proximity to our Honeywell site in Tewksbury, UK.  At first, we tried to only connect on the ground with the plane stationary, and then we taxied around on the airport to see how turning and moving affected the connection.  Once the engineers were pleased with the test results, we took to the skies.


The first couple of flights revealed various connection problems.  We only maintained a connection for 20-30 seconds before needing to reboot the entire onboard system, which took 15 minutes.  We realized the problems stemmed from the ground station configuration.  There are many parameters the ground station has to set and we helped them work through the configuration, so by the third flight we maintained connection for 20-30 minutes instead of seconds.  The onboard system did require some configuring and algorithm tuning, but that wasn’t realized until we had the ground station working better.  By the fourth flight, we were able to maintain connection for the majority of the flight time.

Since we encountered issues on the first two flights, we kept them benign – only flying level while trying to keep a good angle for the antenna to track the satellite.  On the third and fourth flights we could test how well the system maintained the connection during maneuvering.  We did multiple 360 degree turns at increasing bank angles up to 45 degrees, which is at least 15 degrees more than you would ever see in an airline aircraft.  We also made aggressive (steep) climbs and descents in the interest of creating the most difficult situation for the antenna to keep track of and lock onto the satellite.

Reaching New Heights, Connecting You at New Levels  

Our goal during flight testing is to predict all the possible scenarios and extreme cases and go fly to those test points – this includes high altitudes. 

To check the operation at higher latitudes where the angle to the satellite is very low, we based ourselves in Helsinki.  From Helsinki, we flew north to the edge of the Arctic Circle to show the system could maintain connection.  Maneuvers were flown at those high latitudes again, putting the system through its paces to make sure it worked.

There is also a small effect from being in the clouds but only when the antenna has to look through a large cross-section of a cloud, pollution, or other phenomena, so we tested the JetWave system to ensure it compensates automatically for the difference. We basically increased power from the antenna to maintain performance and enable consistent and fast Wi-Fi connection expected by users. 

Data-Driven Decisions = Better Connection 

Our test flight team considers ourselves the first customer of faster in-flight Wi-Fi so we can provide critical feedback to engineering to help improve performance. We pay particular attention to flying in regions where the satellites overlap to see that the system is seamless, and we maneuver the airplane beyond what a normal aircraft would do during a flight to ensure there is a good margin outside a normal flight where the system works. 

While the flight crew is in the cockpit conducting all the manoeuvres, our flight test engineers are in the cabin constantly collecting data about the status of the system. Specifically, the strength of the system’s signal, how well the antenna is tracking the satellite, and even the temperature of the electronic units.  

So, what do we do with the collected data? It is analyzed during and after the flights to help us fine tune the system and ultimately provide the fastest and most reliable connection for passengers, airlines and operators.

Bringing You “Shake It Off” at Faster Speeds

It takes the whole flight test crew to be working closely together as a team to execute all the manoeuvres and understand exactly how every move we make affects our connection.  Our team planned and worked just as hard for these flights as we do for every flight and the reward is being the first people in the world to see this faster in-flight Wi-Fi work.  We kind of chuckle now when we think about our first video streamed using GX Aviation: Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” music video (followed by countless bird and cat videos). As one of the first people to use the GX Aviation service in-flight, I was honestly surprised at how fast the connection is. It is exciting to know the days of taking a full two hour flight to send a single megabyte file are gone. Passengers aboard flights equipped with JetWave will have the same connectivity access in the airplane that they enjoy on the ground.

Joe Duval

Joe Duval

Joe Duval is chief pilot and site leader for Honeywell Aerospace Flight Test Operations at Sky Harbor in Phoenix, Arizona, operating Honeywell’s B-757 Flying Testbed aircraft. In that role, he is responsible for all flight test engineering efforts, development and strategy, and attaining and maintaining technical and programmatic excellence across a team of exceptionally talented engineers, technicians, mechanics, and pilots.

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  • Steve Cirino

    Great article Joe