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CS Group May Make Software for eVTOLs

CS Group works with engine control systems, systems that will also be critical for UAM to succeed

avionics panel
Photo courtesy: California State University, Fresno

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”  – Leonardo DaVinci

When the Wright Brothers lifted off at Kitty Hawk, it was a fully mechanical miracle. Today’s aircraft are a thousand times more sophisticated, if not more. The avionics rely on electronics, and the electronics rely on software.

That’s where CS Group comes in. With offices in Hartford, Connecticut; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and Toulouse, France (and engineers in Romania), CS Group develops, validates, verifies, and certifies safety and mission-critical embedded software for aircraft manufacturers and suppliers, such as Pratt & Whitney, Triumph Engine Controls, and Airbus (developer of the Vahana eVTOL).

In addition to facilitating systems that control the fuel flow to the engines and operating the display systems pilots rely on to safely operate the aircraft from takeoff to landing, they also work on aircraft engine design and software testing to ensure compliance with DO-178C. DO-178C is the primary document used for software certification by regulatory agencies such as the FAA, EASA, and Transport Canada, and cybersecurity directives, including DO-326A/J3061.

On a webinar organized by the Vertical Flight Society and moderated by AeroCar Journal, Matthew Tkac, president and chief engineer for CS Group USA, explained that for aviation to keep up with advancement in avionics, “model-based code generation will overtake hand-coding for most software development. It offers many benefits, such as allowing for early sandbox playing with the tools.”

“But,” Tkac noted, “for very specific applications – those interfacing with hardware pieces, time-centric calculations, or high-speed signal analysis – we will still have hand-coded, optimized code for the foreseeable future. We will have more model-based coding, but I don’t see hand-coding going away in the near future.”

Where CS Group adds value said Jerome Casteret, CS Group’s vice president of CS Group USA, is in “prototyping, designing, and making your software safe and certifiable.” The ground rules apply equally to conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) and VTOL aircraft. “It’s about the intent of the software you have, its use and future reuse,” he said.

CS Group currently works with the engine control systems, systems that will also be critical for UAM to succeed. They verify and validate the interfaces with the air data, the pilot interfaces, the portable object adapter (POA), and to ensure the system applies the correct power to the rotor systems.

Display systems, such as CS Group develops, provide the pilot with data consolidations so they can see the information not only from the data system, but also the engine applications, and will undoubtedly be required of eVTOLs as well.

As the evolution of eVTOL and hybrid-VTOL UAM systems mature, Casteret predicts they, too will face this type of certification validation of their software systems.

CS Group works with SC-240 (the subcommittee from RTCA/EUROCAE to find new standards for drones). “Drones are flying today (with waivers), so we are at the beginning of the curve; today, maybe four or five are advanced enough to get close to certification,” Casteret said. “Our job is to help them plan for their certification and to lighten the burden for them to reduce their costs in achieving it. That cost could be huge if certification is not prepared ahead.”

“We strive for the right processes, we want to be a partner, not just a supplier,” Tkac said. “We work within a company’s processes within DO-178. Think big-picture down, testing at the highest possible levels. With the new code-generation tools, the errors are minimized. We don’t see many errors, but it’s when the different software modules are integrated together to meet the overall intent of the system, problems sometimes occur. We work to reduce our clients’ costs and shorten their schedule to get the time-to-market down. For that reason, we invest significantly in R&D related to process optimization, agile techniques, and, most of all, tool automation using machine learning. Tomorrow, software will fully test the safety-critical embedded software. The future is close.”

Listed on the Paris Bourse stock exchange, CS Group did approximately US$240MM in revenues for FY 2019.

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Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.