Space-based communications company, OneWeb, together with its commercial aviation terminal partner, Stellar Blu Solutions, have conducted a test flight on a Boeing B777-200LR to evaluate their inflight connectivity systems. The companies say the flight delivered high-speed, low-latency inflight connectivity via LEO (low earth orbit) satellites, with terminal speeds of 260Mbps download / 8Mbps upload – sufficient to enable everything from 4K streaming to gaming during flight.
The company says that Sidewinder is lower profile, lighter weight and smaller than existing aviation antennas, which improves aircraft fuel efficiency. Stellar Blu has partnered with antenna technology provider, Ball Aerospace, to incorporate its electronically steered arrays (ESA) into the terminal solution, realised on OneWeb’s LEO network. The Sidewinder terminal is ARINC 791 compliant to ease integration on commercial aircraft, with a smaller form-factor option for installation on regional jets and single-aisle airliners.
The test evaluated Stellar Blu’s new Sidewinder antenna platform, and flight testing will continue through the remainder of 2022, with certification expected in mid 2023. This first test flight aboard the Boeing B777-200LR took off from Fort Worth Alliance Airport (KAFW) in Texas on 27th May and flew for just over one hour.
The test flight validated the installation and integration of the aircraft terminal, the performance of the antenna technology, and the reliability of the connectivity during taxi, take-off, landing, and typical aircraft flight manoeuvres.
As with any test flight, the assessment of performance reviewed expected parameters against vendor specifications, while also instrumenting and verifying on-aircraft impact and operating characteristics.
The crew on the test flight simultaneously demonstrated the ability to connect Teams calls, 4K YouTube streaming, Netflix, online VR gaming and Nintendo Switch gaming, among other structured performance tests.
Maximum speeds of 260Mbps download/80 upload and file transfer scenarios of 5GB were demonstrated in approximately 20 seconds, operating under 100ms (millisecond) of network latency.
“This test flight represents a fantastic milestone for OneWeb,” said Ben Griffin, the company’s vice president for mobility. “Broadband inflight connectivity, delivered to a commercial aircraft via low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and an electrically steered antenna (ESA) is now – finally – a reality.”
This maiden flight represented the culmination of several months of collaboration between Stellar Blu, OneWeb and Ball Aerospace, including ground trials and flight tests.
Tracy Trent, CEO of Stellar Blu, said, “We are very confident the Sidewinder terminal will present operators with a purpose-built aviation solution, delivering new breakthroughs for passenger experience, and redefining aircraft operating expectations for reliability and maintainability.”