The benefits of synthetic vision are available for operators of the Pilatus PC-12 NG. The Honeywell Primus Apex flight deck in the PC-12 NG is designed for single-engine turboprops through light jets, and now with SmartView synthetic vision added, Apex offers the sophistication and utility of Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics found in much larger aircraft such as the Gulfstream G650 and Dassault Falcon 900EX EASy II.
Primus Apex is on three platforms: the PC-12 NG, Viking Aircraft Twin Otter 400 and China’s Y-12F. More than 3,200 aircraft are flying with Primus Epic platforms, and that number will grow to more than 10,000 by 2029, according to Honeywell, based solely on current and not future sales.
“Apex leverages Primus Epic for Part 23 aircraft,” said Larisa Parks, vice president of crew interface products marketing for Honeywell. “It’s a good step up to Epic,” she added, meaning that pilots who fly with Apex will find a natural transition into an Epic cockpit. “They’ll notice that similarity.”
In the PC-12 NG Primus Apex consists of four 10-inch high-resolution LCDs arranged in a T formation, with two MFDs stacked vertically in the center and one PFD in front of each pilot seat. The PC-12 Apex system features a Pilatus-designed cursor-control device instead of Honeywell’s CCD. Also included is Honeywell’s Inav navigation display with on-screen graphical flight planning capability.
What makes Primus Apex’s synthetic vision unique, according to Honeywell test pilot Sandy Wyatt, “is that the SmartView display was built from the ground up to be a head-up display. Other synthetic-vision displays are pretty pictures on a standard ADI [attitude director indicator]. We put synthetic vision on a head-up display, head-down.”
When it comes to paying to add synthetic vision when it is an option, pilots often wonder about tangible benefits. Wyatt pointed out that there are clear safety benefits such as avoiding, for example, a situation where the pilots are directed to fly into rising terrain. Synthetic vision displays an animated view of the outside world, and if the terrain database on which that view is based is good enough, pilots can virtually see terrain and obstacles when the view through the cockpit windows shows only thick fog or clouds or darkness.
But there is an additional benefit that Honeywell (Stand 463) and others are working on, and that is lower landing minimums on instrument approaches when using synthetic vision. And that is without using an expensive and bulky head-up display (HUD). As of now, there is no timeline when this capability might receive regulatory approval, but industry committees are actively engaged in this effort.
The HUD symbology that SmartView brings to the Apex synthetic-vision display helps pilots in many ways. The key HUD-like feature is a flight path symbol, which always shows exactly where the aircraft is going. If, for example, the pilot is flying at night in a mountainous area, the flight path symbol pointing at a mountain peak shown on the synthetic-vision display means that without changing the flight path, the airplane will eventually run into that mountain.
Similarly, during an approach to landing, the pilot simply points the flight path symbol at the touchdown point on the runway and that’s where the airplane will land. Of course, the pilot has to adjust the throttle to maintain the proper airspeed.
Like a HUD, SmartView also has an acceleration chevron to give the pilot information about the airplane’s energy state, and a dynamic speed cue that is tied to the desired reference speed. To help the pilot identify the airport location during an approach, SmartView depicts the airport on the synthetic-vision display as a cyan rectangle with a dotted line extending from the runway centerline.
As the airplane gets closer to the airport, the cyan box shrinks to enclose just the desired runway. Honeywell engineers carefully designed the synthetic vision to accurately replicate the motion perception as the airplane flies closer to the runway. And as the runway image grows on the display, runway centerline, numbering and distance markers become apparent.
SmartView for the PC-12 NG costs $70,000 per cockpit, according to Pilatus Aircraft (Stand 7031). But PC-12 buyers can choose SmartView as part of four avionics package choices, in which case the price drops to $40,000. Pilatus plans to offer the SmartView upgrade for retrofit to PC-12 NG owners and operators, most likely after 2012, the company told AIN.