Gus Kyriakos was the youngest
recipient ever of the Volare Award, presented by the Airlines Avionics
Institute. He's a shirtsleeve manager, not an office dweller, with over 35
years experience in the avionics industry and a person who considers the term
"impossible" to be a personal challenge.
Kyriakos embodied the skills
and mindset needed to implement a new approach to Glass Cockpit design and
Aspen Avionics wanted him.
Aspen Avionics' founders,
Peter Lyons and Jeff Bethel were searching for a way to bring the latest
advances in Glass Cockpit avionics to those aircraft owners and pilots that
operated the small, less capable aircraft.
Aspen's Glass Cockpit approach would use MEMS (Micro-machined
Electro-Mechanical Systems) to electronically mimic the operation of the
mechanical gyroscopes so common in small aircraft.
Because of MEMS, a Glass
Cockpit has a much higher MTBF than mechanical gyroscopes. And, since there's a
flat panel display available, many more features can be added such as moving maps,
traffic and weather information which greatly enhance safety.
Normally, all of this takes
up a large amount of space on the instrument panel but Lyons
dream had resulted in an epiphany. Why
not install the avionics directly into the holes made available by the removal
of the old mechanical displays?
After all, one of the
principle reasons for the installation cost run-up was the need to destroy the
OEM instrument panel since all competing equipment required large mounting
The Dream Weaver
Trained as an EE, Gus Kyriakos
loved hardware design but he also understood software and mechanical issues. He
had the ability to see a design problem both in isolation and within the larger
context of a system. He was an
in-the-trenches engineer and his resume was impressive.
Kyriakos had just brought
Avidyne Corporation's avionics design facility online in Melbourne, Florida.
Before that, he'd led a 100
person Allied Signal Corporation design team responsible for the development of
the TCAS (Traffic - Collision Avoidance System) avionics device. The invention
had saved countless lives.
And he had established
Rockwell Collins' Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) Center for
Engineering Excellence during his tenure there.
He took a look at what Aspen
Avionics had in mind and accepted their offer. He hasn't looked back since that
To implement the concept envisioned
by Lyons and Bethel, Kyriakos' initial task was to build a
team of hardware and software engineers who could translate the founder's
Evolution Flight Display System (EFD1000) dream into reality.
So he ramped up the engineering
staff and then, with his cadre in place, he updated the existing project roadmap.
Kyriakos and his team spent many long days--and not a few evenings and
weekends--getting the embryonic product to function correctly. It was fun in a way only engineers understand.
As the check marks
accumulated on the project task list, the EFD1000 iterations continued to roll
out of the lab until they had a working prototype. It wasn't a walk in the park
Kyriakos had a well deserved
reputation of being a hard charger. He demanded nothing more of his direct
reports than what he was willing to contribute himself but it was during these
days that a new lexicon manifested itself at Aspen: the list of "Gus-isms."
The software team members
were found of saying "Gus always challenges us to design well enough to pass
the ‘Gus Test'. He seems to have an innate ability to break any software within
To an engineer working on an intractable
interface problem he would say "How hard can it be? We were doing RS-232 in the
70's." Then he'd suggest a solution.
To an EE, he'd sniff the
burned up component, look at the schematic and remark that he could "fix that
problem with a diode and a zero ohm resistor." He'd then walk away, only to
return and help find the real solution if needs be.
And if the project bogged
down, he'd simply toss out a remark like "Today doesn't end until 9 AM
tomorrow." But a grin would quickly follow.
The Evolution Revolution
In spite of the Gus-isms--or
maybe because of them--the engineering team was busy churning out solutions. The
product design execution however was constrained by how different the operating
environment is in a small airplane compared to an airliner or large business
Unlike airliners, few of the
aircraft thought to be candidates for the EFD1000 had flight instruments (or
even instrument mounting holes) on the right side of the cockpit. This forces a
co-pilot or flight instructor to use the pilot's instruments. It isn't
dangerous or even all that difficult but it's not anything like an airliner's
This operating difference
required the off axis specification for the displays to take on a new importance.
Also, the display couldn't wash out in the intense sunlight that's often
present during flight.
Cooling issues were another
problem. Air conditioning is not present in most small aircraft and
temperatures can reach very high levels if the aircraft is left sitting on the
flight line in direct sunlight.
therefore became a huge issue as well as the need for a component ageing regime
and the use of fans.
Another problem area was the autopilot
interfaces. It seemed that every autopilot manufacturer had a different
approach to interfacing issues and each method had to be discovered and
addressed. It wasn't so much difficult as it was time consuming.
Looking downstream to
follow-on products, reversion parameters had to be devised so that should the
EFD1000 responsible for the attitude and heading display fail, another one, normally
used for a non-critical function such as a moving map display, could pick up
the slack using totally separate electronics.
A battery backup system insured
that a total power failure would not cause a loss of ability to control the
airplane in instrument conditions. The battery however had to operate in the
same potentially high temperature environment as the rest of the package and
yet not have its amp hour rating or useful life compromised.
And then there was the
software. Because avionics software functionality and safety of flight issues
are so closely related, the code was revised again and again until it was 100%
fit for purpose and bulletproof.
As the possibility of success
came closer, Kyriakos applied his considerable packaging skills to house the
electronics in such a way that the OEM instrument panel in an airplane need not
be disturbed yet the EFD1000 would be robust enough to survive in the alien
environment of flight.
Such an accomplishment is no
small feat because of the constant vibration that's present in piston engine
Guaranteeing a high MTBF for two
vibrating printed circuit boards, plus a display, cantilevered from an
instrument panel that's also vibrating, is a tough problem but Kyriakos dealt with
it using vibration dampening and component reinforcing techniques.
And the chess pieces moved
ever closer to the other side of the board.
The Omnipresent FAA
An avionics product, even one
that's well designed, still has a huge hurdle to jump before sales can
begin. The Federal Aviation Administration
has specifications on what's allowable and what isn't. The infamous T.S.O.
-Technical Standard Orders - authorization documents are not suggestions. They're
Kyriakos again found himself
doing an extended dance with the FAA just as he had at Allied Signal. This time
though, he was working for a smaller company. The FAA always looks askance at such
companies which made the task all the more difficult.
Fortunately, co-founder Peter
Lyons had developed a strong relationship with the FAA at another company which
helped immensely. So design decisions were explained and changes made as
required. And beneath the gaze of the
steely eyed FAA inspectors, the two men pushed the acceptance tests over the
As a result, the Evolution
EFD1000 product received the coveted FAA approval and Aspen Avionics found
themselves the poster child for what's possible when a dedicated group of
people set out to revolutionize an industry.
John Uczekaj, Aspen's
President and CEO, sums things up in a statement that doesn't give his own
leadership abilities proper credit but instead recognizes the accomplishments
of his employees and Gus Kyriakos:
"Aspen's accomplishments are due to the
efforts of many individuals and teams throughout the organization. But without
the leadership and knowledge of Gus Kyriakos, Aspen Avionics, as a company,
might not have been successful.
Gus has been on a long career
journey that led him here. Every part of that journey was preparing him to take
a small company's revolutionary concept and turn it into reality. Peter Lyons
and Jeff Bethel wanted to offer the General Aviation world ‘Avionics for the
rest of us.' Gus and his staff helped make that possible."
John Loughmiller is an EE, Commercial Pilot, Flight Instructor
and a Lead Safety Team Representative for the FAA.
Read up on all the candidates for Design News' 2009 Engineer of the Year!