Smaller systems provide more safety

  • 08-Aug-2011 04:21 EDT

NASA tools provide advanced techniques that will help technicians pinpoint problems.

Two of the industry’s critical development efforts, the push to improve safety and trim size and weight, are being combined by avionics suppliers in integrated safety systems. Vendors are squeezing more into systems that let pilots see more information in consolidated views.

“Highly integrated solutions have benefits well beyond their footprint size and weight, you have the ability to do more things you’re not able to do in a federated approach,” said Joel Otto, Senior Director of Commercial Systems Marketing at Rockwell Collins. “You can architect the system differently and provide pilots with better situational awareness, which is a key factor for safety.”

Vendors continue to add more functions to these integrated safety systems. When several systems are combined into one box, synthetic vision systems can provide a wealth of information. Rockwell Collins added synthetic vision to its Pro Line Fusion system, fusing data from many sources. It enhances vision by overlaying 3-D terrain and weather information over maps so more data is in front of pilots in a single image, helping reduce the cognitive load for pilots. When combined with heads-up displays, it provides enhanced realism.

“We put this synthetic in the HUD so pilots have a very good out-the-window view. When they’re flying at night in mountains, the terrain almost looks like they’re flying in low light,” Otto said.

Other firms are also extending their reach. Avidyne Corp. expanded its integrated safety systems earlier this year. Its DFC100 Digital Flight Control System, designed for use with the company’s Entegra Release 9 Integrated Flight Deck System, was certified by the FAA, and models for various aircraft are being unveiled. That module provides safety enhancements such as a straight and level mode and full-time flight envelope alerting.

Vendors explain that rapid advances in processing capabilities and the evolution of network communications are important enablers. Ethernet now has the determinism needed for safety, and it runs at 100 Mbits/s or faster, providing far more functionality than the old 100 kbits/s data rate. When faster systems can communicate and access larger databases in onboard storage, pilots can automatically get data instead of having to search for it.

“When there’s a failure message, we also provide a checklist that shows the pilot how to work around the fault,” Otto said. “Even when it’s not a safety issue, that reduces the distraction compared to tying in information and searching for a solution.”

Industry efforts are being supported by government research that looks a bit further into the future. NASA’s Integrated Resilient Aircraft Control (IRAC) concept, which focuses on ways to reduce and recover from loss of control, continues to get solid government support.

One of four such research programs for conventional aircraft, IRAC’s funding of about $18 million per year over the next three years is exceeded only by support for the Integrated Vehicle Health Management program. IRAC technologies will help prevent aircraft loss of control and help pilots recover when it does occur.

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