Glass cockpits continue to evolve rapidly, using improved human machine interfaces to help pilots manage a growing number of features and functions. Enhanced vision and synthetic vision are providing richer input, while head-up displays (HUDs) are helping pilots watch both their physical environment and data from a range of instruments.
HMIs are becoming more important as the number of inputs rise and technology goes digital. In response, displays get larger and are taking on many functions. A single screen can present different images during takeoff and flights, among other changes, prompting some designers to say that the concepts of primary flight displays and multifunction flight displays have become outmoded.
“Modern flight displays are becoming adaptive flight displays, capable of hosting multiple applications and displaying them in various window sizes,” said Dave Gribble, Principal Systems Engineer, Rockwell Collins. “As the glass size continues to increase, ancillary functions are being absorbed to remove traditional indicators and controls that need to be relocated.”
Those high-resolution displays are also providing pilots with augmented views. Enhanced and synthetic vision are being combined with HUD to help pilots navigate.
HUD systems are rapidly becoming a standard feature for commercial aircraft. As reduced pricing makes HUD more affordable, design teams are adding more features such as enhanced vision and synthetic vision.
The widespread adoption of HUD is part of an overall trend to improved graphics in cockpits. For example, Embraer said its second-generation E jets will use four 13x10 in landscape displays instead of the five 8x10 in displays found on first-generation jets.
Embraer will augment those screens, which are part of the Primus Epic 2 system from Honeywell Aerospace, with optional HUD systems from a supplier that hasn’t been selected yet.
Other aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing are making HUD an integral part of the flight deck. Boeing deploys two HUDs on every 787 aircraft. These units continue to improve, making it easier for pilots to see projected images even when they’re moving around.
“Some new HUD installations have increased horizontal field of view from 30 to 42° further improving situational awareness by adding conformal imagery on either side of the symbology,” said Peter Howells, Principal Systems Engineer at Rockwell Collins.
Design teams throughout the industry are focusing on many aspects of HUD. Thales, which provides HUD as part of an avionics system used on the Airbus A380, said that improving the transition when pilots look from head-down to head-up displays is one of the key challenges. Rockwell Collins is also striving to improve these transitions, a challenge that becomes more acute when synthetic vision is added.
“It is by no means trivial to generate an accurate and responsive 3-D perspective heads-up scene that conforms to what the pilot sees out window,” said Chris Scherer, Senior Software Engineer, Rockwell Collins. “One of the ongoing challenges of synthetic vision is ensuring that we synergize our eyes up (HUD) solution with our heads-down solution. What looks visually pleasing and useful heads down may not always work in a heads-up environment where it's essential to not obscure the pilots view outside the aircraft.”
For military applications, HUDs are rapidly migrating to helmet-mounted displays. Thales augmented its TopOwl display with night vision functions. Night vision is combined with enhanced vision system imagery.
HUD systems are increasingly incorporating enhanced vision and synthetic vision to help pilots link charts and maps to the real world. In the last few years enhanced flight vision systems have matured into a must-have technology for many low-visibility operations.
Suppliers are combining synthetic vision on flight displays and HUD systems, letting pilots see the same data whether they’re looking down at flat panels or up at the windshield. Honeywell recently started delivering its Primus Apex Build 8.3, which lets pilots see the same synthetic images on the primary flight display and the HUD image. It provides more information including weather and wind conditions along with expanded flight-management system data.
While many suppliers use stored data to add synthetic of enhanced data, some are starting to use real-world images. The sensors used in military applications including UAVs are now being used in many commercial aircraft.
“With the increased demand, improved operational benefits and lower costs are challenging us to design better systems at a lower price,” said Carlo Tiana, Principal Systems Engineer at Rockwell Collins. “Sensor technologies being developed for small and light applications in UAVs are being transitioned to civilian applications.”