Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Sept. 30, 2004
NASA Technology Means No More Flying Blind
Imagine a world where pilots see clear skies all the time. It's not some weather fantasyland, but a revolutionary cockpit display technology called Synthetic Vision. NASA is developing it to make flying safer.
NASA aeronautics researchers from Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., tested the Synthetic Vision Systems technology this summer. They tested the system aboard a Gulfstream GV business jet in air space around Reno, Nev., and NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.
The system gives pilots a clear electronic 3-D perspective of what's outside, no matter what the weather or time of day. It combines Global Positioning System satellite signals with an onboard photo-realistic database to paint a terrain picture for the crew.
During the flight tests, NASA evaluated an integrated version of the technology. It included a bird's eye view of topography, voice-recognition system and advanced sensors. Also included was Database Integrity Monitoring Equipment that ensures accuracy by using sensors to compare the real world to generated pictures. Added to this was a Runway Incursion Prevention System, which included an airport moving map. It also had software that can predict possible encroaching runway traffic, while alerting the crew.
NASA will use the results of the flight test to advance the development of technology to help reduce fatal aircraft accident rates. Synthetic Vision Systems could help eliminate the world's deadliest aviation accidents, called Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). In CFIT accidents, a normally functioning aircraft crashes, because the pilot wasn't aware the plane was headed in the wrong direction, due to bad weather or a combination of factors.
"NASA has already tested the individual technologies of Synthetic Vision and Runway Incursion Prevention Systems onboard a NASA 757 jet aircraft," said Randy Bailey, Synthetic Vision principal investigator. "We were excited to see it fly as an integrated system on the Gulfstream. We were particularly excited to be partnered with Gulfstream, which has been an industry innovator in aviation technology," he said.
Other flight test partners included the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Jeppesen, Englewood, Colo.; Rannoch Corp., Alexandria, Va.; The Boeing Company, Huntington Beach, Calif.; RTI International, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; and Ohio University, Athens, Ohio.
Seventeen pilots selected from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Air Force, the Joint Aviation Authority, aerospace industry and major airlines flew the GV more than 67 hours in 22 flights to collect data. Gulfstream provided command pilots.
During the flight evaluations, the test pilots' windshield was often intentionally covered or flights were conducted at night. The process simulated low visibility conditions, so the pilot would have to rely on computer-generated instrument displays. The information included a head-down display mounted in the instrument panel and a head-up display to superimpose terrain and guidance information onto a screen in front of the pilot's eyes.
A number of airline pilots have already flown components of the Synthetic Vision System in simulators and a NASA 757 research jet. "I think it's awesome," said United Airlines 767 Captain Rick Shay of the technology. "To explain the difference in the situational awareness that you gain, it's just a complete leap from the technology that's there today," he added.
The NASA Aviation Safety and Security Program is part of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. It is also a partnership with the FAA, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program's goal is to help reduce the fatal aircraft accident rate and protect air travelers and the public from security threats.
For information about NASA's Aviation Safety and Security Program, on the Web visit:
For information about NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, visit:
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