ToughWriter prototype brings color printing to the cockpit, we go hands-on

You might be surprised to hear that many current aircraft already have the ability to print documents at 30,000 feet. Long-haul airliners like the Boeing Dreamliner and Airbus A340 A380 ship with a ToughWriter flight deck printer installed and ready to go, but the device has been limited to black and white output, which can be a bit restrictive when it comes to spitting out charts and weather information. Astro-Med, the company behind the cockpit printer currently churning out reports in thousands of commercial, business and military planes, has a spiffy new model on the way. We spotted an early prototype on display at the Paris Air Show this week, and while it's still a ways off from being cockpit-ready, the device works quite well, printing to ZINK paper at about 30 seconds per page, compared to 5 seconds for the monochrome version.

Unlike the printers we're accustomed to using on the ground, a ToughWriter must be installed before an aircraft is certified, so it's really something you need to factor in before the FAA signs off on your plane. In other words, don't expect to simply swap in this new color model once it hits the market. It's also an expensive acquisition -- it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect pricing in the $25,000 range, though that detail has yet to be announced. The version we saw in Paris is very much a work in progress -- it far exceeds the maximum size allowed, and it's heavier than the targeted 10 pounds, too. It does print quite nicely, though, and once engineers manage to squeeze the printer into a smaller housing, it'll likely include AirPrint so pilots can print from their iPads, and possibly Android wireless support, too. Astro-Med reps weren't able to tell us when the color ToughWriter will take to the skies, and considering the certification involved, it could be a few years out. Catch it in action in the gallery below.%Gallery-191672%

Update: We originally reported that the monochrome ToughWriter model is installed in the Airbus A340, however the correct aircraft type is A380. The error has been corrected.