The name "Bendix/King" conjures up a long legacy in aviation. From the famous Air Race trophies in the 1930s, through their domination of World War II avionics and eventual partnership with King Radios, the company is synonymous with aviation pioneering. In recent decades, the company has morphed into an altogether different entity through acquisition by Allied Signal, then a merger with Honeywell Corporation and the launch of the "Bendix/King by Honeywell" brand in 2007. Still a giant in the modern avionics industry, Bendix/King has made some exciting changes recently that could position the company as a pioneer once again.
Probably the biggest change was the company's recent move to New Mexico. In April 2012, Bendix/King moved its technical operations (including product development and support) to a 40,000-square-foot facility in Albuquerque. The move is part of the initiative to establish Bendix/King as an independent strategic enterprise separate from Honeywell. In doing so, Bendix/King has created a new opportunity for innovation and technical development.
General aviation pilots who have been familiar with the Bendix/King name collectively began scratching their heads a bit during the last decade. It wasn't so much that the company had made missteps in the avionics world, it just seemed they were being surpassed by newer and smaller competitors.
In the early 1990s, companies like Garmin swept past Bendix/King with their introduction of game-changing avionics like the now ubiquitous GNS 430. They weren't the only ones: Avidyne and others began developing standalone GPS navigators and entire avionics suites that left Bendix/King behind. Though the company had developed the popular KLN series of products, they quickly fell behind competitors' offerings, with their monochromatic displays and not-so-intuitive user interface.
One bright spot was the AV8OR product, which was a portable handheld GPS navigator and electronic flight bag complete with geo-referenced charts and color touch display. But the AV8OR came just ahead of the iPad revolution, which offered the same capabilities and more for less money. Most manufacturers stopped innovation on their handheld navigators and concentrated on iPad applications or branching into other areas in avionics.
Bendix/King certainly felt the slipping and did several things to stop the slide. First, they hired Kevin Gould to lead the reinvigorated company—a Harvard MBA with vast experience in aviation courtesy of Boeing, Piper and others. Gould brought a "start-up" mentality to Bendix/King. The move to the Albuquerque area also put the company at the forefront of aviation innovation, joining lean and successful companies like Aspen Avionics and Eclipse Aviation. The move has given Bendix/King renewed life.
"We are excited about our product roadmap," said Roger Jollis, Vice President of Marketing for Bendix/King when Plane & Pilot caught up with him recently in New Mexico. "We have found through market research, our customers and focus groups, that the Bendix/King brand is remarkably strong and represents quality and reliability."
Jollis is one of the many employees that Bendix/King has brought aboard at the New Mexico location. Honeywell has structured the company with its own budgets, sales goals and strategic initiatives. The independence has given Bendix/King an opportunity to reclaim their leadership in avionics.
First, they've partnered with Aspen Avionics and are collaborating on the development of the KSN 770 touch-screen MFD. "They [Honeywell Bendix/King] are relying on our expertise in the retrofit market and in light and medium GA," said Aspen Avionics President John Uczekaj. Aspen and Honeywell Bendix/King are jointly marketing the product.
Roger Jollis is pleased with the collaboration and sees it as the first of what could be more joint ventures. "This partnership with Aspen is a model of how manufacturers can work together," he said. Indeed, during my recent visit to the Aspen testing facility in New Mexico, a number of Bendix/King aircraft were in the hangar being overseen by avionics engineers from both companies. It was a refreshing sight and one that should serve as a pattern for all aviation companies. Collaboration seems to suit GA just fine, and we pilots are the beneficiaries of such partnerships.
Jollis explains that the goal of the re-born Bendix/King is to provide what general aviation lacks. "Pro pilots fly five times a week, but GA pilots may fly twice a month," he noted. "So we have to create avionics that are easy to use for the average pilot. At the same time, we have to keep the professional pilot in mind. In the end, it's about avionics that are easy and intuitive."
employee programs that subsidize some GA
flight instruction and aviation activities. Jollis tells me
about 60% of the staff is made up of pilots and
increasing all the time.
The Albuquerque facility has been increasing staff—especially in engineering and technology—to an impressive level. The target will be some 180 employees. Bendix/King is so committed to aviation that they offer employee programs that subsidize some GA flight instruction and aviation activities. Jollis tells me that about 60% of the staff is made up of pilots and increasing all the time.
In the past few months, Bendix/King has scored several wins. First, the launch of their "myWingMan" app for the iPad was met with great enthusiasm. The newest version (launched in February of this year) offers AHRS support, support for SIDS and STARS, a better, more stable interface and greater flight planning flexibility. The new update makes myWingMan even more powerful, and puts it in a rightful place with cockpit "standards" like ForeFlight, Hilton's Wing-X, and Garmin's Pilot app. myWingMan can be downloaded for free on a 60-day trial.
In December, the company announced its KMA 30 audio panel retrofit. The KMA 30 is a slide-in replacement for older audio panels that can be installed without rewiring the entire panel. The unit has music and Bluetooth capability to allow connection of cell phones and other audio devices.
Jollis says these products are only the beginning. "You'll see more and more products come to market from us that use innovative technology and are easy to use." He adds that Bendix/King will focus not only on technology, but on making these products affordable for GA. "Right now, we're focusing on relationships with our customers," smiles Jollis, "We listen to what they have to tell us." Visit www.bendixking.com for more information.