Officials from Rockwell Collins, Max-Viz, NASA’s Langley Research Center, the FAA and other organizations in late June conducted the culminating test flight of developmental advanced-vision avionics aboard an FAA Boeing 727.
Wrapping up an R&D flight-test program that began in 2001, researchers are now busy examining data from the flights and plan to provide reports to NASA and the U.S. Air Force later this year. Excerpts from the reports are expected to be made available to the public.
Combining database-driven synthetic and infrared enhanced views on head-up and head-down displays, the so-called SE-Vision project equipment installed in the FAA 727 testbed is intended to improve safety by providing integrated virtual and real-world views of terrain, obstacles, other aircraft, vehicles and the airport
FAA pilots flew the final SE-Vision demo flight on June 23 from Atlantic City International Airport, N.J. Additional flights in a Boeing 737-900 technology demonstrator, a Gulfstream V and the 727 have been conducted at various locations around the country since the project began.
Nobody knows for sure when SE-Vision avionics for civil aircraft will be certified and enter production, but some observers are predicting business jet flight crews will be the first to benefit from the technology. Last summer, test pilots from NASA and Gulfstream flew a GV equipped with the experimental Collins synthetic-vision system (SVS) to evaluate some of the latest techniques for SVS/EVS blending. Fitted with a combination of head-up displays (HUDs), a new type of multi-scan weather radar, special sensors, a voice-recognition system and cockpit displays with computer-generated images of the terrain, the GV used in the trials was a veritable flying laboratory.
Pilots shot a series of instrument approaches to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia using only SVS for visual guidance. Gulfstream senior production test pilot Chip King served as the pilot-in-command and flew with NASA-designated pilot Mike Norman, who evaluated the SVS. With his side of the cockpit windshield intentionally blocked, Norman flew approaches using the computer-generated graphical information displayed on an LCD monitor and on the HUD to minimums without any trouble, Rockwell Collins reported.
That’s not to say the concept is perfect. As demonstrated in the FAA 727, the computer-generated SVS view fills the primary flight display while a smaller EVS view occupies a rectangular area in the center of the picture. These views are blended in such a way that the computer view and real-world enhanced view appear to be more or less seamless.
However, there is a sharp cutoff line at the top of the EVS view that at a glance could be mistaken by pilots as the horizon line. In level flight, the illusion can make pilots momentarily believe the nose of the aircraft is pitching down.
Human factors researchers are currently in the process of comparing notes from the evaluation flights to address a number of issues related to the SE-Vision display. Recommendations from the research will almost certainly be incorporated into SE-Vision designs under development by avionics makers. The military likely will be the first to adopt the technology, but a number of scientists involved in the recent FAA trials said it is likely only a matter of time before similar concepts are certified for use in civil airplanes.