EBACE Convention News

Using technologyto make flying safer

 - November 29, 2006, 9:06 AM

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what technology might make business aircraft operations safer and more cost effective. But Honeywell Aerospace clearly didn’t want to take any chances and so in 2004 it hired as its vice president for advanced technology Bob Smith, executive director of American Space Alliance, the contractor on NASA’s space shuttle upgrades development program.

Smith’s job is to oversee a team that advances new technological concepts to the point at which Honeywell’s product development engineers can get them ready for the marketplace. “Our job is to consider how we can make aircraft safer, as well as improving availability and operating costs,” he told EBACE Convention News. The team will often pore through the details of accident reports from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board looking for areas where technology might be applied to plug gaps in safety.

Among the technologies that the Honeywell team is working on is the expanded use of telematics to predict the maintenance needs of engines and other aircraft systems. In the cockpit, it is evaluating how synthetic vision systems could play a greater role in aircraft safety by fusing data from the enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) and other inputs.

The telematics project involves making more comprehensive inferences about the physics of aircraft systems using performance data from existing sensors to provide estimates of future maintenance needs. The aim is to be able to do prognostics about future requirements, rather than simply providing diagnostics about the current state of equipment.

Honeywell has already deployed this technology in several programs for the U.S. Department of Defense. It is now exploring how prognostic capability might be applied on its engines and auxiliary power units. This summer it is due to begin operational trials on its TFE731 engines, which power several business jet families.

Smith told EBACE Convention News the trial is exploring how engine prognostic and diagnostic data could be relayed automatically to a pilot’s cellphone, as well as to mechanics at the operator’s base. In theory, the same technology could also be applied to systems such as integrated avionics, environmental controls and actuation. Once the trial is complete, the advanced technology team will discuss the findings with its panel of operators before presenting the conclusions to Honeywell’s product development team.

Another project is intended to leverage the database of Honeywell’s EGPWS, which includes details of some 70,000 terrain obstacles and more than 25,000 runways. Honeywell believes it has the most accurate terrain database in the world, having acquired data from sources as diverse as the formerly top-secret files of Russia’s KGB security services (which sold them to Honeywell) and the radar terrain maps taken by the 30-meter boom of the U.S. space shuttle’s radar technology mission.

For instance, the engineers believe it might be possible to advance Honeywell’s synthetic vision system by fusing data from sources such as the millimeter wave and weather radars with infrared. Similarly, by combining the existing EGPWS database and ADS-B inputs, Honeywell’s runway awareness and advisory system might be able to give more precise information about an aircraft location in relation to a specific runway or taxiway, and the proximity of any potentially conflicting traffic.

The same fused data could also be used to monitor runway approaches more accurately. This way the pilots could be given timely guidance as to whether their approach is too high or too steep.

The pilots’ council plays an important role in keeping the feet of Honeywell’s advanced technology scientists firmly on the ground. “They ask us how it works, how could it work better, and they tell us not to mess up the primary flight displays on which they depend,” Smith explained. “They help to set the pace and the limits of what we do.”