Bell Helicopter is unveiling a single-screen instrument panel concept for its V-280 Valor next-generation military tiltrotor. The panel currently is installed in the V-280 mock-up, which will be on display in the Pentagon’s courtyard from June 2 to 4. The panel display is a collaborative effort among Bell, partner Lockheed Martin and Los Angeles-based Inhance Digital; the companies have been working together on the concept for the last 18 months.
While the team is likely a decade away from developing a system for a flying aircraft, it already has some definite ideas about its architecture. Bell was able to draw on technology developed for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter, including “smart helmets” with PDAS (pilot displayed aperture systems), as well as ideas from commercial off-the-shelf technology. “The pilots who will be flying this aircraft are today’s eight-year-olds,” said Jeremy Chavez, project engineer on the V-280 program. “The aircraft would become operational during the 2025 to 2030 time frame, so we looked at trends where cockpits were heading: more touchscreen interactive capabilities. We looked at the technology currently on the commercial market and who the pilots will be operating the aircraft in that time frame. They have grown up with iPads, pinching and swiping screens. That kind of thing will be highly intuitive to them.”
System Survivability Is Key
While the panel is still in the concept stage, the team is focusing on developing a product that can incorporate and present an enormous amount of data and imagery to the pilots from both their own and other aircraft in logical sequence and is ballistically survivable. One idea on the latter is to construct the screen from a series of small mosaic displays that stitch together a larger image. “If a round pierced the screen it might take out one or two tiles, but the rest of the screen would function around it, sort of like poking your finger through a screen door. The screen is still intact; you just have a localized area where the screen is not functioning,” Chavez said.
This survivability is particularly critical since most of the switchology aboard the aircraft will be eliminated and replaced with inputs made directly on the touchscreen. “You won’t have all the toggle switches you have in today’s cockpit, but there will be back-ups that we will develop with the survivability group,” Chavez said. “With the mosaic design, you don’t lose the entire screen. You can move information off the damaged area or the display control system would be smart enough to know not to display critical information in the damaged area and would automatically move it off to the side… Beyond that we are still developing failure modes and how we want to mitigate those risks.”
The V-280 team is also looking at ballistic-resistant materials for the display. “A ballistic-tolerant screen is something we are looking at,” said Chavez, “like bulletproof glass on an armored car. But we don’t want to put something out there that is ballistically tolerant but constantly fails.”
Chavez sees the instrument panel, smart helmet and data projected onto the windshield as providing a triple-redundant system, able to display enough data either in concert or independently to ensure safety of flight. “A lot of the flight-critical information is going to be distributed across the [helmet] visor screen and the windshield. As on the F-35, the visor integrates with PDAS sensors on different parts of the aircraft to provide a 360-degree spherical view of the world around you. That would just be streamed into the helmet and distributed across the visor as the operator wants to customize it,” he said.
Keeping Pilots Focused
Another critical challenge is keeping such a massive display from overwhelming the pilots with information or tempting them to fly with eyes only in the cockpit. “It is a massive display and it is very eye-catching, but the last thing we want is for pilots to be mesmerized by it. They need to be eyes out as well. That will be a balancing act that we develop over time,” Chavez said.
Sensors will detect aircraft condition, and system logic will display only the most critical information needed under any given conditions. Chavez gives some examples. “If you are entering a brownout at 100 feet agl, all displays go to a primary flight display; if your radar altimeter goes to 50 agl, certain information would vanish and the display would give you just the most critical information, such as an attitude indicator. There will be a predetermined logic to the system.”
Perhaps the giant display’s most impressive ability is to integrate data from the PDAS to provide a giant outside window with synthetic vision during limited or zero-visibility situations. “It’s basically the same as looking outside. That is definitely where we are headed with this display,” Chavez said.