*** NOTE: The NASA High-Speed Research (HSR) Program was
phased out in fiscal year 1999 ***
NASA's High-Speed Research Program
The eXternal Visibility System Concept
Imagine flying a
supersonic passenger jet (like the Concorde) at 1,500 mph
with no front windows in the cockpit it may one day be a
reality. NASA engineers are working to develop the technology that
would replace the forward cockpit windows in future supersonic
passenger jets with large sensor displays. These displays would use
images, enhanced by computer-generated graphics, to take the place
of the view out the front windows.
eXternal Vision System (XVS) would guide pilots to an
airport, warn them of other aircraft near their flight path, and
provide additional visual aides for airport approaches, landings
Currently, supersonic transports like the Anglo-French Concorde
droop the front of the jet (the "nose") downward to allow the
pilots to see forward during takeoffs and landings. By enhancing
the pilots' vision with high-resolution displays, future supersonic
transport designers could eliminate the heavy and expensive,
Eliminating the drooped nose could lower the overall weight of
the aircraft, lowering the cost of each flight. In addition, a
fixed nose design with an XVS would allow for a longer nose,
reducing drag and resulting in additional fuel and weight savings.
An XVS also could provide safety and performance capabilities that
exceed those of unaided human vision.
A future U.S. supersonic passenger jet, as envisioned by NASA's
High-Speed Research (HSR)
program, would carry 300 passengers more than 5,000 nautical miles
at speeds more than 1,500 miles per hour (more than twice the speed
of sound). Traveling from Los Angeles to Tokyo would take only four
hours, with an anticipated fare increase of only 20 percent over
current ticket prices for substantially slower subsonic
XVS Flight Tests
Flight and ground vehicle tests of XVS technologies are being
conducted as part of the HSR Flight Deck research project. Two
series of flight tests, to investigate the various aspects of the
XVS concept, have already been completed. During these flight
tests, pilots performed 'windowless' landings from two preliminary
representations of possible XVS displays.
XVS Flight Test Series I
From November 1995 to January 1996 a NASA Boeing 737, equipped
with a windowless research cockpit in the passenger cabin, and a
Westinghouse BAC 1-11 avionics test aircraft, conducted
approximately 20 test flights from NASA Langley Research Center and
NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility, Va.
The first series of XVS flight tests were made in two phases.
During the first phase (for sensor data collection), the NASA 737
and BAC 1-11 flew typical airport landing approaches, cruise
flights, and airport holding patterns to test the suitability of
the XVS sensors to detect other airplanes and ground objects.
During the second phase (the 'piloting' phase), pilots flew
approximately 90 approaches and landings from the NASA 737's
windowless research cockpit. These flights tested the pilot's
ability to control and land the aircraft relying only on sensors
and computer-generated images (including various symbols) on the
In addition to providing valuable real-time sensor data for
subsequent analyses, the first XVS flight test series gave
researchers confidence that a future supersonic passenger jet could
indeed be flown without forward facing windows in the cockpit.
XVS Flight Test Series II
The second series of HSR XVS flight tests were flown from April
to June 1997 using the NASA 737 aircraft with an XVS display in the
One of the primary missions of the second series of flight tests
was to determine how well an XVS display would work in an aircraft
that had sidewindows in the cockpit. Researchers found that the
"artificial" view from the XVS display, combined with the
"real-world" view out the side window, presented no significant
difficulties for the pilots.
Researchers also investigated the effects of the position of XVS
sensors in relation to the pilot's eye position. The second series
of flight tests included landings where sensors were mounted both
to the rear and to the side of the pilot's eye position. Both
sensor positions produced negligible difficulties for the
- In addition to these two 'pilot-in-the-loop' experiments, data
was collected for three other XVS-related experiments:
- Ambient Lighting: Data was gathered to determine how to control
the amount of light falling on the XVS display through the
cockpit's side windows.
- Object Detection: Data was gathered to help develop methods for
detecting other aircraft or objects on the ground.
- Object Detection via Radar: Additional data was gathered on the
use of X-band weather radar for detection of other airplanes in the
Ongoing XVS Research
When pilots taxi the future supersonic passenger jet they will
do so sitting nearly sixty feet in front of the forward landing
gear. To better understand any difficulties this distance may cause
in steering the jet on the ground, engineers are testing a
full-scale, ground test vehicle called the Surface Operations
Research/Evaluation Vehicle (SOREV). SOREV will help engineers
determine what sort of XVS visual aids a pilot will need to get the
jet safely from the runway to the gate and back to the runway.
Researchers are also continuing studies on XVS display
technologies using various flight simulators at NASA Langley.
The XVS Research Team
The HSR XVS Flight Deck research team includes NASA Langley
Research Center in Hampton, Va.; NASA Ames Research Center in
Mountain View, Calif.; The Boeing Company in Seattle, Wash., Long
Beach, Calif., and St. Louis, Mo.; and Honeywell Inc. in Phoenix,
Ariz. Other companies that have supported the XVS flight tests
include Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; FLIR Systems in
Portland, Oregon; and Northrop-Grumman in Baltimore, Md.
For more information, please contact:
NASA Langley Research Center
Office of Public Affairs
Mail Stop 115
Hampton, Va. 23681-0001
(757) 864-6124/8199 (Fax)