Modern technology for the flight deck

DLR tests digital communications technologies combined with additional navigation functions for the first time

DLR-Flugversuche testen erstmals digitales Übertragungsverfahren mit Navigationsfunktion

27 March 2019

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  • Falcon beim Start
    Falcon during take-off

    DLR test pilot Michael Grossrubatscher takes off for the first test flight with the Dassault Falcon 20-E5.

  • DLR%2dVerantwortlicher für LDACS, Herr Dr. Michael Schnell
    Michael Schnell, responsible for LDACS at DLR

    Michael Schnell from the DLR Institute for Communications and Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen.

  • DLR%2dForscher im Forschungsflugzeug Falcon
    DLR researcher in Falcon research aircraft

    Researchers from the Institute of Communications and Navigation (from left to right: Nils Mäurer, Daniel Mielke and Guiseppe Battista) in the Falcon research aircraft preparing for take-off.

  • DLR%2dForschungsflugzeug Falcon im Hangar am Standort Oberpfaffenhofen
    DLR Falcon research aircraft in the hangar at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen

    The Falcon will be heading to newly established LDACS ground stations in Oberpfaffenhofen, Schwabmünchen, Peiting and Königsdorf.

  • Falcon auf dem Rollfeld
    Falcon on the runway

    Since 1976, the Falcon 20E research aircraft with D-CMET registration has served as a platform for German and European airborne research into the Earth and atmosphere. Many unique modifications and modern equipment make the Falcon a real versatile platform for research applications.

  • Until now, air traffic controllers and pilots have communicated using analogue radio.
  • A new transmission method enables high-quality voice communications as well as fast data exchange.
  • Focus: Aeronautics, digitalisation

At the end of March 2019, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Falcon research aircraft will be taking off for what will be a world first in aviation. For the first time, a prototype of the new digital aeronautical radio standard LDACS (L-band Digital Aeronautical Communications System) will be tested. In future, this will enable secure and efficient data exchange between air traffic control centres and flight decks, up to and including 4D trajectories. In addition, the new technology is implementing an alternative navigation system for aviation, which determines the aircraft's position using LDACS signals received by ground stations. The test flights will overfly four ground stations in Upper Bavaria. With these tests, the possibility of introducing the new system worldwide is within reach.

"In principle, LDACS for aviation works in a similar way to mobile radio communications on the ground," explains Michael Schnell, from the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen, where the new technology has been undergoing development with external partners since 2007. "The ground station corresponds to the mobile phone base station, and the radio in the aircraft corresponds to the smartphone." The new technology, with which pilots and controllers can benefit from improved communications, enables both high-quality voice transmissions and fast data exchange. "The particular challenge was that no new frequencies could be made available for this digital service," explains Christoph Günther, Director of the DLR Institute for Communications and Navigation. "It was thus necessary to develop procedures to enable the operation of this service in parallel with other services in the same frequency band." The technology in the research project MICONAV (Migration towards Integrated COM/NAV Avionics) is currently being developed to flight maturity.

For 80 years, analogue has been the norm in the air

At present, air traffic controllers instruct pilots to change their course or flight altitude using analogue radio. This approach has been used since the 1930s. "It is still safe and robust, but awkward to use," says Schnell. "The pilots still have to check in and out verbally and enter the radio frequencies manually." The technology also requires a broad spectrum of frequencies. This is problematic because only limited frequencies are available and the number of flight movements continues to increase.

Digital and 4D – flight paths with predicted times

With LDACS, pilots and air traffic controllers will not only be able to communicate faster and more efficiently, but will also be able to exchange complex information that cannot be transmitted over analogue radio. In the future, pilots will be able to digitally specify four-dimensional trajectories for the aircraft, that is, flight paths with predicted times. In addition, together with satellite navigation systems, the new technology can provide precise locations for the aircraft by determining its distance from at least four ground stations. "If the signals from the GPS or Galileo satellites are unavailable for any reason, the pilots would still be able to find their precise location via LDACS," says Schnell. "This creates an additional margin of safety."

Test field in Upper Bavaria

"For the current test flights, the aircraft will be heading to newly established LDACS ground stations in Oberpfaffenhofen, Schwabmünchen, Peiting and Königsdorf," says DLR test pilot Michael Grossrubatscher. The researchers are testing the new technology for adequate data transmission speeds, smooth transitions between ground stations, and the range and accuracy of the navigation function. "Until now, we have just been testing all of this in the laboratory using models, and it is a great moment to finally see the technology becoming fully operational in the air," says Schnell.

It is expected that it will take several years before this new system is actually introduced into control centres and airports worldwide. Since 2016 there has been a DLR-led working group for standardisation at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). "Once the standard is finalised, manufacturers and airlines will be encouraged to adopt it," explains Michael Schnell. "This should happen by 2022."

About the MICONAV project

The MICONAV project is being co-funded by the aviation research programme LuFo V , organised by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. In addition to DLR and consortium leader Rohde & Schwarz GmbH & Co. KG, BPS GmbH and iAd Gesellschaft für Informatik, Automatisierung und Datenverarbeitung mbH (Computer Science, Automation and Data Processing Company) are partners in the consortium.

Last modified:
27/03/2019 15:27:02



Falk Dambowsky
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Media Relations

Tel.: +49 2203 601-3959
Dr.-Ing. Michael Schnell
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Institute of Communications and Navigation, Communications Systems

Tel.: +49 8153 28-2858

Fax: +49 8153 28-1871
Prof. Dr. Christoph Günther
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Institute of Communications and Navigation, Head

Tel.: +49 8153 28-2811

Fax: +49 8153 28-1442
Michael Grossrubatscher
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Flight Operations, Flight Facility Oberpfaffenhofen

Tel.: +49 8153 28-3049

Fax: +49 8153 28-1347