Since its founding 55 years ago as a small repair station in Wichita, Kansas, Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics has progressively expanded its product line and industry leadership. While the company remains a strong instrument overhaul and repair facility for a broad base of avionics, they continue to innovate with their own line of avionics, instruments and True Blue Power products. The True Blue Power division includes a product line of USB charging ports, DC-to-AC inverters, voltage converters and lithium-ion batteries.
Powering Crew and Passengers
With crew and passengers now carrying more varied and powerful portable devices, the demand for aircraft-powered charging ports has increased. I have the original True Blue Power USB charging ports in my personal airplanes and found them to be very effective, delivering adequate power for my portable electronic devices.
True Blue Power recently announced the release of the TA360 series – a new line of high-speed charging ports that utilize USB Power Delivery (PD) technology to deliver up to 120 watts of power. Building upon the previous TA102 and TA202 lines, which are still available, the TA360 charging ports are available in single and dual USB-A and USB-C configurations. Unlike the previous series that can operate from 10-32V aircraft line voltage, these higher power charging ports are only available with 22-32V input voltage. These units can provide variable output power 5-20VDC and 3 amps to accommodate a wider array of portable devices.
Expanding Lithium-Ion Batteries
True Blue Power has been manufacturing lithium-ion batteries for aircraft for many years. The TB17 (17 amp-hour) is used in lighter aircraft such as the Cirrus G2 Vision Jet, Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, Robinson Helicopter R66 Turbine, Tecnam P2012 Traveller, Airbus Helicopter H130, Robinson R44 and Bonanza A36. In larger aircraft, such as the Bombardier DHC-8, Cessna Caravan 208 and Beechcraft King Air 350, the 44 amp-hour TB44 is utilized. The TB44 is also powering Textron Aviation’s newly certified Cessna Citation Longitude. Last February, I flew the Cirrus Vision Jet G2 with the True Blue Power batteries and noticed the start performance was impressive, offering a quick engine acceleration and resulting low ITT.
Building upon their existing TB17 and TB44 products, True Blue Power recently released the Gen5 battery family, starting with three offerings: TB20 (20 amp-hour), TB30 (30 amp-hour) and TB40 (40 amp-hour). The new series has a different form factor than their original line of batteries. The Gen5 is also certified to the FAA’s most stringent C179B Class A-4B rating.
Todd Winter, president and CEO of Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics and True Blue Power, met with us at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas regarding the design of their latest batteries. Listening to Todd describe the products, using the term “battery” for these devices is an over-simplification. It is probably more accurate to refer to them as “power systems.” When we think of conventional aircraft batteries, it invokes a visualization of a plastic or composite case, holding plates, separators, electrolyte and terminals. Yet, True Blue Power’s lithium-ion batteries are sophisticated devices with integrated management and monitoring capability.
True Blue Power Technology
True Blue Power batteries contain a large number of small lithium-iron Nanophosphate (LiFePO4) cells, wired in a combination of series and parallel circuits, to not only provide the required voltage but also to offer redundancy which accommodates the failure of an individual cell. These same cells are used in power grid applications, such as mining, to balance power needs.
Without going into a deep dive into lithium battery chemistry and construction, this technology provides higher power, longer life and a greater level of safety over other lithium battery technologies, including lithium-metal designs. Nanophosphate technology, patented by A123 Systems, Inc., is engineered nanoscale chemistry that can tolerate a wide variety of environmental conditions and still perform. In the unlikely event that an individual cell does have an issue, they generate significantly less heat, reducing the likelihood of a thermal runaway, which can occur with lithium metal-oxide designs.
For aircraft operators, that translates into more power and a dramatic increase in safety if an individual cell fails. This is one reason that True Blue Power designs meet the latest FAA requirements, including thermal runaway, drop impact tests, containment and many others. After personally experiencing a high-temperature exothermic event with a Ni-Cd aircraft battery, it is comforting to know that the True Blue Power battery design and monitoring make this a non-issue.
True Blue Power batteries can also offer substantial weight savings (60 pounds in the Cessna Citation Longitude application), and turbine engine starts as low as -40 Celsius. The low-temperature start is the result of a system that involves an integral heater in the battery. When the battery senses either a charge or a current draw as simple as the activation of a baggage or door light, the heater starts and warms the battery up to 0 Celsius. This process takes a maximum of 45 minutes at -40 Celsius. When you start your pre-flight, simply turn on any load or attach a GPU, for example, and the battery warms itself. The batteries also include a display panel with test switches for the pilot to monitor the condition of the battery.
Maintenance Cost Reduction
The standard True Blue Power lithium batteries reduce maintenance costs with an extended battery capacity check of two years, while the Gen5 series only requires on-condition maintenance. The batteries also offer a significant increase in cycle-tolerance, designed for 10,000 cycles versus 500-800 for lead-acid or Ni-Cd, which makes them perfect for high-cycle operations such as skydiving, crop dusters, short-haul operators and helicopters. Coupled with the high-cycle lifespan is a rapid charge capability, with the ability to fully recharge in as little as 15 minutes. And when it comes time for a replacement, the solid cases are aluminum and easily recycled.
Price-wise, lithium-based batteries are more expensive than conventional alternatives. But when factoring full life-cycle costs and performance, they can be an attractive option for operators. The TB17 and TB44 have retail prices of $6,280 and $16,575, respectively. The new Gen5 series prices are $9,035 for the TB20, $13,435 for the TB30 and $17,835 for the TB40. More information can be found at www.truebluepowerusa.com.