AUBURN, Alabama – For Michael Greene, an electrical engineer with experience working on aerospace projects, it all started with failed mechanical gyros on a cross country flight in his private plane. Determined to create something more reliable, Greene started Archangel Systems in Auburn more than two decades ago.
Fast forward to 2015, and Archangel now designs, develops and manufactures certified sensor systems for use in both fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft. Its air data, attitude and heading reference systems – known as ADAHRS and AHRS – combine MEMS sensors and sophisticated algorithms to achieve high-level performance at reduced cost and size.
The Alabama company has built an international clientele with a focus on Europe. Scandinavian Avionics just received EASA STC approval for a King Air 200 installation with the Archangel ADAHRS. The U.K.’s Royal Air Force has completed its Project Julius Chinook upgrades with Archangel ADAHRS onboard. Marenco Swisshelicopters has selected Archangel AHRS for its SKYe 09, Switzerland’s first domestically designed helicopter. In addition, a supersonic variant is being used in fighter upgrade projects around the globe.
“We have a lot of foreign customers. If you look at a map of military and civil aviation, we fly on every continent except Africa and Antarctica,” said Michael, who serves as Archangel’s Chairman.
Kitty Greene, Archangel’s president and Michael’s wife, says Archangel is heavily involved in product-driven research and development, winning 18 research awards during the last 13 years. Both the AHRS and ADAHRS were developed from these R&D outcomes, she added.
Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the company is representative of technology-focused small businesses in Alabama’s aerospace sector that have carved out a niche for themselves in the global marketplace.
“Archangel Systems has a long history of innovative research and development, allowing the company to produce mission-critical flight hardware and software that have applications in many kinds of aircraft,” Secretary Canfield said. “In addition, Archangel has a global focus, with a substantial portion of its sales coming from clients around the world, reflecting the international flavor of the aerospace business.”
Today, Archangel is targeting more business in Europe. For example, the company recently secured additional airworthiness certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency for its flagship ADAHRS. Additionally, both the AHRS and ADAHRS are fully exportable, a significant cost savings for the European customer.
“Our strategy in Europe is simple – make it easy for those companies to rely on Archangel,” said Bill Dillard, Archangel’s director of emerging technology.
A BUSINESS TAKES OFF
The company got its formal start in 1992. Michael, then an electrical engineering professor at Auburn University who had worked with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, developed an electronic flight instrument system that collected air speed, engine data and other information. At the time, such systems were just beginning to appear in the aircraft operated by commercial carriers.
“We were trying to do a low-cost version that general aviation could manage,” Michael said.
The display product debuted in 1995 and was marketed for five years, primarily to the experimental market the Greenes found at the EAA AirVenture OshKosh and Sun ‘N Fun airshows. Eventually, they decided to target general aviation with FAA-certified products.
According to the Greenes, that display was the first multi-function, large-format, flat touch-screen display, a combination way ahead of the trend. But, at that time, the marketplace was enamored with only small format displays. With the Archangel display 20 years ahead of its time, the company shifted toward AHRS and ADAHRS sensors.
With that strategy shift, Archangel was able to apply its ingenuity to a more immediate avionics submarket. Erickson Aviation was its first ADAHRS customer and still uses Archangel’s ADAHRS in the massive S-64 Skycrane. The growing acceptance of dual-use avionics by global defense agencies has also benefited the company. For example, the Australian Defence Force recently used Archangel’s ADAHRS in a B-206 Kiowa project.
The Greenes know that Archangel’s location in the center of the growing Southeastern aerospace cluster is a benefit. Strong relations with nearby Auburn University provide a pipeline of quality engineers. Auburn is also close to customers and colleagues such as Elbit Systems, which has an electronics facility in Talladega, Alabama; Boeing, which has been in Alabama for more than half a century, and Airbus Military in Mobile, recently selected as the global support center for the C212 airplane.
“We’re in that aviation corridor, and it certainly has helped us that the industry has a big presence in Alabama,” Michael said. “For example, Boeing continues to look at us for those reasons. There is a lot of aviation activity here and it just keeps growing.”
Plus, the support team at the Alabama Department of Commerce has given Archangel assistance over many years, according to Dillard. “The Alabama Department of Commerce continues to be very important to Archangel’s international strategy,” he said. “Their foreign trade missions, travel support and mentoring on exporting have benefited Archangel greatly, and we appreciate that.”