The following article was written by AvAd Inc. President Rob Seaman and published in the April 2002 issue of Avionics Magazine.
The call first came from an old friend in the US - "Rob, I've just been speaking to a gentlemen up your way and you've got to get a look at this test aircraft he has! It is really something unique and interesting. Give it the once over and call me."
So I jumped in the car - always willing and eager to check out something new and interesting - and headed off to Marsh Brothers Aviation - the Esso FBO at the airport in Hamilton, Ontario Canada. Once there, I asked for John Maris - it was his aircraft I wanted to see.
Now here was the hook. My friend had failed to tell me what sort of aircraft to look for. When you tell someone they are going to be seeing a new sort of test aircraft, the mental image is usually of something different, a little exciting and somewhat out of the norm. After meeting John and exchanging pleasantries, we went to the ramp to look at his "bird". As I surveyed the area, all I could see was a Piper Cheyenne. John was leading me to it. Not wanting to appear rude I followed along - although I was beginning to ask myself what was so special about a Cheyenne?
Having been known to pull a few pranks on friends from time to time, I was beginning to wonder if my buddy was getting me back - sooner or later they always do. John opened the aircraft door, continuing to talk about his test programs, product development, consultation work with new avionics systems and his days in the military. As we boarded, I really was beginning to wonder when the punch line would come. Then I looked around and very quickly learned what a special aircraft indeed this was.
John Maris is the President of small, but very interesting firm known as Marinvent Corporation. The company was founded in 1983 to conduct aerospace research and development. By 1996, they had collected some 12 patents prior to the launch of their first commercial product - JeppView® and later the JeppView FliteDeck®. They also developed the TCL format and cross-platform MC3 vector graphics library used in the electronic display of Jeppesen charts.
Today, the firm employs 14 - three at the administrative office based in St. Bruno (Quebec) and the remainder spread between the main programming facilities they manage in Moscow and Korolev (Russia) and a small liaison office in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina. The corporate focus of Marinvent is development of advanced technologies, which they then license to the "leaders" in the appropriate field or manufacturing sector, testing of avionics products and systems human factors research.
John Maris is actually a former Canadian Air Force test pilot. He was once part of the NASA/Canadarm team. Currently John is one of only two independent rated test pilot DARs (Designated Airworthiness Representative) in Canada. Through the Flight Test Services side of the Marinvent business, John and his team test not only their own developments, but also the efforts of others. John originally acquired the Cheyenne in 1998 and is very quick to point out that it is not an "experimental" category registered aircraft. Outside the test departments of the big OEMs, this is the only flying test platform commercially rated and available in Canada and the US. As Maris puts it - "A lot of smaller guys in the avionics development business have great ideas, but lack huge budgets to own and operate their own test vehicle. We're the answer need with this aircraft. We can participate at any level of a test development program - from planning, through the flight-testing, the certification activities or even the human factors research."
The passenger area of the Cheyenne is a working zone. In keeping with its "commercial" certification, there are even safety/emergency passenger cards in all the seat pockets! This is one of a very few test aircraft that can legally and safely carry passengers as well as the test team. It features foldout tables, flexible seating and has its own available power (filtered 12 volt DC power using standard cigarette-lighter jacks and 115 volt household AC via a dedicated inverter) and network connections for laptops.
Another unique and distinct Marinvent feature here is that once networked with the aircraft data systems, the user is linked to the internal reporting software. This provides flight data and visual readouts for all the aircraft attributes and performance information - time- logged to the equipment being tested and evaluated.
John Maris believes that test flight time should be focused on flying and testing - not writing notes and keeping records. To that end, he has equipped the aircraft with an on- board DVD visual recording system - complete with highly sensitive, noise canceling microphones. All cabin activity and audio aspects of the flight are accurately recorded for review after the flight in a fully digital format. The end product can be replayed on any similarly equipped laptop or DVD player.
The front end is the real test area. The entire right side of the cockpit has been reworked and designed as an evaluation center. Working to maximize the use of current "black- box", plug and go technology, any client evaluation units can be installed and ready for flight within a normal working day - or overnight if needed. Test avionics are housed in a full-height Dzuz rack - inclusive of power, data and GPS feeds. Using all off the shelf components means no cutting or rack modifications, less shop time and as a result, lower expense to the company requiring the test services. This also means that if several tests are required on different units or systems, the necessary change between units can be easily managed and organized to occur while the Marinvent aircraft is available and on- site. With planning and little co-operation, the aircraft can be also used by several companies during the period it is in a geographic area or region - affording yet another element of cost saving all around by reducing the dead-head time and cost between test sites.
Having been designed and modified as a true investigation, experimentation and assessment platform, the test rack area in the nose of the aircraft and inside the cockpit is isolated by three tiers of protection - completely protecting it from any and all interference from other systems on the aircraft. The test area also boasts four levels of electrical protection to address the safety issues associated with avionics testing. All of this adds up to a package that can be very timely and affordable for avionics professionals when developing STCs, new products or cockpit layouts and human factors research.
On the day I was visiting with John, the right side of the cockpit was set up with a 747 rated FMS and HSI. "We can make this aircraft do all the things that systems need to experience in the air or on the ground. This allows us to completely and thoroughly test and research products for our clients in various stages of development in an affordable way - before the more costly installation in the actual Boeing airliner," says Maris. "Research needs to be conducted in a controlled and quantified manner - taking into consideration many things. The time we spend helping to prove applications at this level with our aircraft becomes an invaluable resource and time saver down stream - and is far more cost effective simply because of the set up we have, the way we work and methodology we employ. Anywhere that money and time can be saved is ultimately a saving that works out in the client's favor."
In terms of the Cheyenne's own aircraft flight systems, Marinvent have made certain that the left side of the cockpit has provided triplicate critical avionics solutions complete with back-up power that will function for up to 4 hours without the need for regeneration. The aircraft also features a two-tube Electronic Flight Instrumentation System (EFIS) display on the left side and to provide total back-up - conventional mechanical instrumentation on the co-pilot's side. All these systems are unique and isolated from the test panels. This focus on reliability and safety goes to the absolute credibility of Marinvent for providing not only a unique flight test source, but also a safe and reliable one. Downtime from an aircraft system problem is not something heard of when working with John Maris. "I remember back in my military days we worked for weeks to set up a test that was to take place at night and involved orchestrating several aircraft to come from different locations and rendezvous mid-air at the same time and place. The whole thing failed because of a faulty light bulb that blew mid flight. You never forget that sort of thing - the waste of time and resources all caused by a component worth only a few dollars and not even directly related to the research work. We work very hard - and to date with an excellent track record - to make certain that when a client books us, our equipment is not the cause of delays or missed opportunities."
To keep the aircraft is full fighting trim, Marinvent has developed a sound relationship with TG Aviation, Cheyenne specialists located at the John C. Munro International Airport, in Hamilton, Ontario Canada. To date, TG has handled all the aircraft modifications and on- going maintenance, annuals and some of the test equipment installations. Over 1.5 million dollars has been invested into the aircraft – something that shows in their attention to detail with customers and the general pride they radiate when talking about the aircraft itself.
John and the Cheyenne have been very busy. Marinvent have become somewhat sin ominous with pushing the evolution of the paperless cockpit concept. In addition to their development with the JeppView® program, they have also been involved with the Northstar CT - 1000, the Universal Avionics UCD Cockpit Display and HCI engineering for the Advanced General Aviation Transportation Experiments (AGATE) and flight testing of Jeppesen's worldwide terrain databases as part of NASA's Synthetic Vision System program. Other flight test work has been undertaken for CAE and Canadian Marconi and a role in the certification of products for Garmin, Honeywell and Avidyne.
Marinvent and John Maris are a small company making a big difference. The nice thing about meeting them and talking about what they do is that you quickly come to realize that they have not lost site of their original visions or goals. They remain dedicated to providing the right balance of support and affordability for helping small to medium sized companies improve and evolve aviation systems that can improve many different yet related aspects of flight management and performance. They lend their own expertise to that of their test clients with a view to creating a better end product and overall improvement in flight operations and safety. Most important, they like what they do and they get enthusiastically involved in each project plus - they take pride in a job well done.
For more information about Marinvent or getting their assistance in testing products, developing STCs or researching new ideas, contact them at (450) 441-6464 or visit their web site at www.marinvent.com. Chances are when you call, John will even be the guy answering the phone!
Rob Seaman is the President/Principal of Business Aviation Service Solutions (BASS) Inc. His firm provides marketing, promotional and training support consultation to a variety of globally based business aviation operators, FBOs, professional aviation associations, service/support providers and manufacturers. On a pro bono basis, Rob serves as Chairman to the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA).