L-3 Communications Avionics Systems has received FAA Technical Standard Order (TSO) and Supplemental Type Certificate approval for its SmartDeck integrated flight control and display system.
While no original equipment manufacturer (OEM) launch customer for SmartDeck has been named, the STC applies to the Cirrus Design SR22 G2 aircraft, and L-3 plans to offer the product through authorized dealers as a retrofit option.
SmartDeck includes primary flight and multifunction displays, and a center console unit dedicated to flight plan and radio management. It can provide pilots with navigation, traffic and terrain avoidance data, and allow them to monitor communications, flight controls, engine parameters, and other data sources.
SmartDeck is suitable for many new generation aviation aircraft, including turboprops and light jets, and L-3 says it is working to customize the platform for Cirrus’ proposed jet aircraft. Formal avionics selection for “the-jet,” as it is now called, is pending, however.— PJR
Modern aircraft are marvels of engineering but they still fly into the ground on a fairly frequent basis. And pilots continue to lose control of them, especially when visibility is restricted. Avionics manufacturers are doggedly pursuing ways to eliminate these problems—many see the answer in a new generation of synthetic vision systems (SVS) now moving from the lab to the production line.
Honeywell Aerospace has targeted the Part 25 turbine aircraft segment for its new entry in this emerging SVS competition: the Integrated Primary Flight Display (IPFD). The Gulfstream version designed for that company’s PlaneView glass cockpit is called Synthetic Vision—Primary Flight Display (SV-PFD). This installation recently achieved FAA certification aboard all PlaneView-equipped Gulfstreams, including the G350, G450, G500, and G550. I recently witnessed a demonstration of the system aboard a Honeywell-owned G550.
For those new to this end of the avionics market, PlaneView is Gulfstream’s branded version of the Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite now found in various configurations on a variety of jets and turbine helicopters. On Dassault Falcon Jets, for example, Epic forms the display and software core of the EASy cockpit.
On the Gulfstream jets, PlaneView is built around four large liquid crystal displays, two serving as primary flight displays and two as multifunction displays. Pilots can alternate between numerous screens presenting different types of information, moving within the screens and from page to page using a cursor. In the PlaneView system, the four screens are mounted in a row, with a mouse-like cursor-control device located on each pilot’s armrest. With EASy, the PFDs are behind the control yokes and the MFDs are stacked in the middle, with dual trackball-style cursor control devices mounted on the center pedestal behind the power levers.
Plans are to migrate the IPFD to all other Epic-equipped aircraft; this enhancement will most likely occur in the form of a software patch. Platforms next in line for the upgrade could include the Falcon 900EX, 2000EX, and 7X; the Cessna Citation Sovereign; the Hawker 4000; the Embraer 170 regional jet family; and the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter. Tailoring the system to each of these aircraft is likely to require a time investment for integration work, and for FAA certification test flying.
Based on what I could see from the G550’s cockpit jump seat, the PlaneView application of the Honeywell SVS has made a smooth transition from test rig to robust production system. Jary Engels, a Honeywell flight test pilot in the right seat of the G550 as we proceeded from Washington Dulles to Roanoke, Virginia, for some practice approaches, explained how pilots quickly become acclimated to seeing a razor-sharp, realistic view of the world on their PFDs.
“Everybody who flies it agrees it’s extremely comforting to be able to see the aircraft’s position relative to the terrain, regardless of what the weather outside is doing,” Engels said. “You get used to it quickly and immediately feel deprived if the image defaults to the standard, ‘blue on top, brown on the bottom’ attitude indicator reference. Going from the synthetic vision back to the standard EFIS display is like going from a glass cockpit back to steam gauges—it’s a real downer.”
Development on the IPFD began in 1999, with the goal of converting the database from AlliedSignal’s (now Honeywell) FAA-mandated (airliners are required to carry it) enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) into a three-dimensional picture.
EGPWS provides only a plan or straight-down view, with colors green, yellow, and red used to indicate the relative threat level of terrain along the aircraft’s flight path. Periodically updated over more than 20 years of service, the EGPWS terrain database covers more than 8,600 airports worldwide, along with 30,000 runways and 100,000 obstacles.
Successive leaps in computer power made the transition to three dimensions possible and concept demonstrator systems were refined with input from pilots of varying experience levels, from low-time flight instructors to airline and business jet captains. By Honeywell’s count, the IPFD has logged more than 1,000 hours in simulators and more than 600 hours in test-bed aircraft.
As the institutional knowledge surrounding the Honeywell SVS grew, test pilots and engineers took a hard look at the pilots’ observations, resulting in some key differences with the Part 23 (small airplane) SVS products now becoming available. Unlike the new Garmin G1000 SVS and the earlier Chelton systems, for example, the SV-PFD does not employ a highway-in-the-sky (HITS) user interface. According to Gulfstream senior experimental test pilot Tom Horne, project pilot for the SV-PFD development and certification team, HITS displays were deemed “too busy for our application.”
“Putting all those moving boxes in front of their eyes can be very distracting,” Horne said. “Pilots can look at the boxes and react to them, but they can’t do much else. Instead, we’ve elected to put traditional EFIS and HUD symbols on top of the synthetic picture. This is very intuitive and helps the pilots make an easy transition if the aircraft exceeds pitch parameters and the display reverts to a non-SVS mode.”
As the IPFD launch customer, Gulfstream has placed its own stamp on the system. Its version features widened, transparent speed and altitude tapes, a choice of flight directors, a flight path marker, terrain shading related to elevation (like a sectional chart), a zero-pitch reference line with cutouts, an enhanced crosswind rendering, a cyan (aqua blue) outline for the airport symbol and landing runway, and a 15-nm extended centerline for the landing runway.
“All the pilot has to do is put the flight path marker on the runway threshold and follow the bread crumbs,” Horne said.
SV-PFD is so intuitive and easy to use, Engels said, that the FAA doesn’t require pilots to complete any formal training before using it in flight. If there’s a down side to this, it’s that users receive no operational credit for the system, meaning the government does not yet consider it a substitute for the human eye. Pilots are not authorized to use the SVS as the primary visual reference for descending below decision height on a precision approach, or below the minimum descent altitude on a nonprecision approach.
This could change, however, if Gulfstream’s experience with the Kollsman Enhanced Vision System (EVS) carries any weight. In this installation, a forward-looking infrared camera was mounted under the nose of Gulfstream IV/V aircraft, with the image appearing on the captain’s Honeywell head-up display (HUD). FAA certification was obtained, but it took some time before operators received the FAA’s consent to use the EVS to obtain the visual cues required for instrument approaches.
EVS and SVS are still stand-alone systems with no overlap, and Gulfstream pilots using SVS on an approach must shift their eyes to the EVS (or outside) upon reaching minimums. This point could be moot for private (Part 91) operators who are allowed to start an approach and “take a look,” regardless of the ambient conditions. The rules are slightly tougher on commercial (Part 135) operators, however, since they are prohibited from starting an approach to a runway reported to be below minimums.
It seems inevitable that SVS and EVS will one day merge in a process the avionics gurus call sensor fusion, with the SVS database providing the big picture and the infrared camera (or other sensor) showing the real-time situation, such as a truck blocking a runway. It remains to be seen, however, if a camera of any kind will be the best adjunct to the computer database over the long term. Options include, but are not limited to, millimeter-wave imaging radar (already tested as an EVS component), laser radar, and synthetic aperture radar.
“Sensor fusion is inevitable, but I don’t worry too much about the individual sensors,” said Sergio Cecutta, Honeywell’s marketing manager for Advanced Vision Systems. “It’s going to take a long, evolutionary process to determine what technology works the best. Look at the Joint Strike Fighter—it has multiple sensors of different types to tell the pilot what’s happening in a 360-degree ‘bubble’ around the aircraft. Just what a sensor is doing and how it works will be irrelevant to the pilot as long as there is redundancy, and the situational awareness is there.”
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