Flight Dynamics expands head-up display capability

 - March 19, 2008, 7:46 AM

Head-up display manufacturer Flight Dynamics, a division of Rockwell Collins, outlined its future technology strategy to AIN during a recent visit to the company’s Portland, Ore., facility.

Basic to the strategy is to move past the traditional perception of the HUD–or, as the company describes it, the HGS, for Head-Up Guidance System–as an optional add-on to the flight deck and to position it as an accepted key component of an aircraft’s avionics suite. The company sees its HGS becoming an essential element in future flight operations where, as Flight Dynamics president John Desmond said, “Its capability will be integrated as part of the Rockwell Collins total-aircraft solution.”

Integrated is the important word here, according to company officials, since it refers not only to the HGS’ total technical compatibility with the other onboard avionics, but also to its much wider predicted role in future overall flight management, well beyond its primary use today for approach guidance. For Desmond, who noted that the company’s HGS was “the only system certified for Category III approach and landing in either the regional airline or corporate aviation markets,” the future applications of head-up technology are virtually unlimited.

Several development projects are under way at the Flight Dynamics facility, three of which were described in detail to AIN.

First is the company’s planned adoption of a built-in infrared enhanced vision system (EVS). When AIN visited Flight Dynamics more than two years ago, a senior marketing manager stated that while EVS was an interesting concept, HGS already provided Cat III guidance and adding EVS might not repay what was then a very substantial investment. Since that time, however, advances in EVS technology and its growing acceptance in the corporate community and elsewhere have brought about a reassessment of its benefits and a reduction in costs, leading to the launch of the company’s EVS upgrade program.

The company’s initial target for the EVS HGS will be the Boeing Business Jet, for which an STC’d upgrade will be offered in late 2005 to operators flying with Flight Dynamics’ current HGS-4000. Following the BBJ, STC’d upgrades will be available for HGS-4000 installations in other business aircraft, and at that time the company will also offer its Phase 4 HGS-4000, with built-in EVS capability, for new installations. The estimated price of the upgrade is not yet available.

The second development is the planned move from the traditional HUD cathode ray tube (CRT) projection technique to the use of liquid crystal displays (LCD). Replacing the vacuum-tube CRT and its attendant high-voltage power supply with an LCD design is expected to bring about a significant increase in overall reliability, along with sharper picture quality and improved gray-shade presentation in bright ambient light conditions, which is important for EVS viewing.

Underlining the company’s move toward an integrated “total aircraft” avionics solution with its parent, the new LCD HGS will incorporate an advanced computer graphics engine from Rockwell Collins, that will be used in numerous other applications. Some overall system weight reduction is expected, but the price is not expected to change significantly.

HGS surface guidance in very low RVR conditions is the third development under way at Portland. Using an onboard high-accuracy airport surface map database coupled with one-meter position accuracy from an airport differential GPS or LAAS station, the HGS will display a computer graphics overlay of, and precisely aligned with, the runway or taxiway ahead, from the correct perspective of the flight deck. Runway and taxiway edge lights would be overlaid with their graphic equivalents, with their centerlines clearly displayed.

Upcoming turns, including high-speed turnoffs, would be alerted well in advance, with distances to go and current taxi speed versus maximum speed for the turn shown prominently, and the turns themselves accurately depicted as the aircraft proceeds around them. Tracking around a turn will be aided by a “future trend line,” familiar to pilots currently flying EHSIs.

Finally, should the crew be uncertain about the aircraft’s actual position, they can instantly switch the HGS display to show a plan view of the airport’s runways and taxiways, with an aircraft symbol showing their location and, equally important, pointing in the direction they are headed. The sometimes confusing “sea of blue lights” at large airports will finally lose its mystery, if Flight Dynamics has its way.