Universal Avionics Systems has received European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification for its ClearVision enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) with SkyLens head-wearable display, the first time that a head-wearable display has been certified for civil aviation. The certification is on the ATR 72/42 regional airliner.
This approval will allow operators to use the “visual advantage” available with the ClearVision EFVS to initiate instrument approaches or take off in lower flight visibility, which will help operators meet schedules and avoid having to divert to alternate airports. Operators will also be able to use the system for enhanced vision system- or EVS-to-land capability, allowing landings in poor visibility without using natural vision to look outside the aircraft.
The ClearVision EFVS works with traditional head-up displays (HUD), head-down (instrument-panel-mounted) displays, and Universal’s SkyLens head-wearable display (HWD). ClearVision can display enhanced vision and synthetic vision system imagery, and it can blend those images in a combined-vision format. An advantage of the SkyLens HWD is that its field of view is not limited, as is the case with a traditional HUD or head-down displays. The SkyLens field of view (or “field of regard,” as Universal describes it) is basically unlimited and depends on where the pilot is looking.
“The certification of our EFVS with SkyLens is a breakthrough in commercial aviation,” said Universal CEO Dror Yahav. “Aircraft operators can now take advantage of major enhanced-flight-vision capabilities and safety improvements with our proven ClearVision solution. This marks the first civil certification of an HWD and the first EVS-to-land solution for line-fit passenger aircraft. [This is] a major milestone in innovation in aviation.”
The first airline to implement SkyLens, Guernsey-based Aurigny, is the launch customer for the Universal Avionics HWD. After the airline gains experience flying with SkyLens to the allowable 100-feet-above-ground level, which is the same as for traditional HUDs, pilots will then transition to EVS-to-land operations, according to Yahav.
“The interesting thing about airlines,” he explained, “is that each one has a different problem to solve. The value proposition for EFVS differs between operators.” For example, some airliners face foggy conditions during morning and night departures or challenges taxiing in fog or at night. Others need a higher safety margin for night operations in high-terrain areas. SkyLens can help airlines where their busy hubs’ capacity is cut in half when weather conditions deteriorate from VMC to IMC.
“Using EFVS technology will allow airlines access to runways that are not accessible at the moment,” he said. “They will be able to maintain a level of capacity, make sure they meet gate times and flow their operation, and save a lot of money.”
In addition to the HWD’s unlimited field of view, another advantage is that it can be fitted to many more types of aircraft than a traditional, heavier, ceiling-mounted HUD. Many airliners and business jets have a HUD on only one side of the flight deck, and customers are asking Universal to certify SkyLens in other aircraft types so both pilots can use HUDs/HWDs and see the same information.
“To retrofit [an aircraft] with HUD is too expensive,” Yahav said, “and not technically feasible.” He sees a potential airline market for 22,000 airplanes.
In the business aviation market, he added, there are many airplanes that either never were HUD-equipped or that have obsolete HUDs and camera systems. “This is providing an opportunity for business jet operators to upgrade to the latest technology at a reasonable cost,” he said. “Take an airplane you like to the latest configuration, and you get all the benefits; like when you purchase a new airplane.”
The helicopter market is going to be a big opportunity for SkyLens, Yahav said. While HUDs, in general, are not relevant for helicopters, he explained, SkyLens can still offer significant benefits.
Using EFVS, helicopter pilots could fly with SkyLens in marginal VFR, low-visibility conditions and receive credit as if the weather were better. “It’s not IFR credit,” he said, but it could help medevac and search-and-rescue operators save lives. SkyLens would also enhance nighttime operations.
Universal Avionics is working on three helicopter certification programs for ClearVision and SkyLens in Europe. Two are for Leonardo’s AW139 and AW169 and one for a German police Airbus Super Puma. With MD Helicopters selecting Universal Avionics to provide the avionics suite for the MD 902, that helicopter will be a likely candidate for SkyLens, according to Yahav.
Helicopter pilots have conducted 200 to 300 hours of flight testing so far in the above helicopters and an FAA Sikorsky S-76 and on Universal’s own helicopters. “We got a lot of information,” he said. “Those pilots are the easiest community to convince. They fly at night and they’re scared of wires and obstacles; add rain and low visibility and they don’t see anything. But somebody is begging to be picked up. Push a button and suddenly you see what’s going on outside.”
Another benefit of night capability made possible by SkyLens is firefighting. It is difficult for fixed- and rotary-wing pilots to descend close enough to attack a fire at night without severely eroding safety margins. ClearVision EFVS and SkyLens will help pilots see surrounding terrain via synthetic vision and the location of the fire, thanks to the infrared sensors. Night-vision goggle imagery will also be available to display on SkyLens.
FAA approval of SkyLens is expected soon because most of the work has already been done with EASA. Both agencies worked together on the proof-of-concept program that identified the two key topics and the means of compliance needed to be addressed for certification, which are line-of-sight tracking and human factors, according to Yahav. Basically, Universal Avionics had to demonstrate that the HWD is equivalent to a HUD.
Testing took about a year and satisfied those topics using a Moog vibration platform for human factors testing, lots of simulator flight testing for assessing different risk and malfunction scenarios, and then in an airplane with EASA and FAA pilots flying with the SkyLens HWD with their windshield completely covered. With a safety pilot carefully monitoring, the EASA and FAA pilots were able to do EVS-to-land operations all the way through touchdown and rollout just using the SkyLens.
Universal Avionics is also working on an STC for the system in its Gulfstream III, due in October, and a Boeing 737 installation with a dual SkyLens system. The latter should be certified by the end of the year.
For pilot training, Universal has developed a program that includes online training, virtual reality practice, then practice in a flight training device. The training could include some practice in a full flight simulator, but that is expensive and might not be necessary.