If you see an especially odd-shaped plane taking off from Sydney Airport this afternoon, don't stress. It's not some secret government project -- it's the Honeywell Test Flight, which is in the country for a short while flying short trips across the Tasman to test out in-flight Wi-Fi. The Honeywell jet, which stands out because it has a distinctive pylon just behind the cockpit that can mount a third engine, is testing and demonstrating JetWave high-speed inflight wireless using the same Ka-band satellite technology that powers the NBN.
Aerospace technology company Honeywell owns the fifth ever Boeing 757 jet aircraft, registered N757HW, built in 1983 and operated by the US' Eastern Airlines until 1995. After a couple of years re-fitting as an experimental platform, Honeywell has used the jet to test and validate many of its aerospace parts including the turbofan engines used in business jet aircraft and internal weather radar systems, occasionally using the distinctive third-wing pylon.
The flying technology laboratory is looping between Sydney and Auckland to test out the company's JetWave wireless hardware, which connects to Inmarsat's Global Express network of three Ka-band geosynchronous satellites. Global Express is "the first high-speed broadband network to span the world", according to Inmarsat, and can achieve download speeds of 50Mbps and uploads of 5Mbps using the company's I-5 satellites over a wide coverage area.
The satellites themselves -- coincidentally also built by Boeing -- last for up to 15 years in orbit and are around 7 metres in length with a wingspan of 34 metres of solar panels, weighing 6100kg. 89 separate Ka-band beams provide the satellite with transmit and receive capability across an entire region of the earth, with one satellite each for the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Aimable 'spot beams' can provide additional bandwidth to specific regions and areas within those regions when required.
Honeywell recently bought Satcom1, a software provider that built in-flight communications technology using JetWave. Potential future partners for Honeywell in Australia are Qantas and Virgin Australia, both of which have plans for inflight Wi-Fi.
Aviation photographer Grahame Hutchison was at Sydney Airport to watch the Honeywell test jet land on its route in from Macau via Darwin and for general testing -- the video above shows the plane landing and taking off during several tests. Honeywell -- which encompasses many brands including Garrett turbochargers and the Honeywell home thermostat division -- is a Fortune 100 company with 129,000 employees and an annual turnover of nearly $US40 billion. Its aerospace arm is the world's largest producer of aircraft engines and avionics. [Honeywell / YouTube]