Federal Express makes major commitment for HUD and EVS

 - April 3, 2007, 7:02 AM

In the world’s first major commitment to head-up display and enhanced vision technology by a civil operator, Federal Express announced late last year that it would equip its whole widebody fleet with the new equipment. The HUDs, to be supplied by Honeywell, will incorporate enhanced vision systems built by Kollsman. These two companies provide the HUD/EVS combinations currently being offered by Gulfstream in its G350, G450 and G550.

FedEx operates more than 200 widebodies, including DC-10s, MD-10s, MD-11s, A300s and A310s. (All FedEx DC-10s are progressively being converted to MD-10s–a company-designed refurb that includes a glass cockpit and other upgrades.) FedEx also owns 113 Boeing 727s, 256 Caravans and 50 assorted other types, but these are not included in the program. In addition, 10 HUD/EVS-equipped Airbus A380 mega-freighters are on order, with options for an additional 10.

But FedEx is no Johnny-come-lately to the HUD/EVS scene. Quite the reverse, in fact. As far back as 1979, even before the jet-powered Gulfstreams were gleams in Allen Paulsen’s eye, FedEx founder Fred Smith saw the potential of the concept in assisting his fledgling package delivery service achieve its overnight-service promises.
A former Marine pilot with service in Vietnam, Smith became convinced that once the technology had sufficiently matured, it would go on his airplanes. In 1981 Smith produced a detailed document spelling out the benefits of the new concept, which he named “The Magic Window.”

Yet the HUD/EVS installations are not expected to lower FedEx landing minimums. “They will be there solely for safety,” company v-p of special projects Ron Wickens told AIN at FedEx headquarters in Memphis. “In our widebody fleet we already have full autoland capability, so it can’t get us any lower than that.” Added Bob Rachor, FedEx’s v-p of safety and airworthiness, “The HUD/EVS combination will provide an additional level of safety by increasing situational awareness for our crews, particularly in the airport approach and departure environment and on the airport surface.” Wickens and Rachor agreed that enhanced vision could also provide protection against CFIT accidents–once cited as a major EVS marketing benefit–but both pointed out that EGPWS had now pretty well taken care of this need.

A Significant Investment

Certification of the HUD/EVS combination in an MD-10 is planned by the end of 2006, with fleet installations starting in 2007. Why so long, when corporate operators have been flying these systems for more than a year? FedEx doesn’t rush into things–remember Fred Smith’s “sufficiently matured” view–and the company wants the very newest technologies such as the liquid crystal displays now under development.

How much will the fleet-wide HUD/EVS installation cost? That figure wasn’t available, but educated guesses put the actual equipment, in addition to its installation and very complex integration with FedEx’s already advanced avionics suite, and its subsequent certification in each aircraft type, as running conservatively between $500,000 and $1 million per aircraft. And that goes for around 220 airplanes, including the A380s, which will have an individual HUD/EVS for each pilot.

Wickens told an amusing story of his difficulties in getting Airbus to even consider installing dual HUDs in the A380. Airbus, it turned out, was extremely proud of its mega transport’s flight-control system and its projected autoland capabilities, and believed that the HUDs would prejudice full use of them. Wickens said that it took several visits to Toulouse to finally convince Airbus that FedEx, too, was totally committed to autoland, and that the HUDs would not change that policy.

Yet while FedEx is making a major investment in HUD/EVS, company officials are also closely involved in other new technologies and ATC initiatives. In Europe, 13 FedEx 727s were among the first 100 “pioneers” to launch Eurocontrol’s controller/pilot datalink program, while back in the U.S. the company is actively following developments in ADS-B, which is being spearheaded by UPS. “Yes, we’re competitors,” said Wickens, “but on safety and efficiency improvements, we’re all in this together.”