Rockwell Collins initiates future flightdeck concepts based on integrated systems

RC's Ascend has far-reaching capabilities to fuse ops, cabin and mx info, using panoramic displays and touchscreens.

By Glenn Connor
Pres, Discover Technology Intl
ATP, Cessna 425

Rockwell Collins VP & General Mgr, Business and Regional Systems Greg Irmen with one of several company concepts for a near-future flightdeck. Information fusion and interactive route planning between flightcrews and dispatchers may be the future of NextGen-ready systems.

Inspired by the emerging success of Pro Line Fusion and synthetic vision, Rockwell Collins is now forging a "future future." From the flightdeck perspective, some of the designs of this new Rockwell Collins vision may include very advanced touchscreens and panoramic larger-format displays.

But the new future will also include ideas not seen in today's aircraft, an information management system that connects all aspects of flying, business tools for the traveler, even maintenance management through a single trusted source. They call it Ascend.
The objective of integrating flightdeck and information system is to provide the crew and business traveler with access to information and services outside traditional radio communications, achieved by tapping the large expanse of cyberspace.

The new fusion of flightdeck and information systems will also bring under one manageable service the current patchwork of maintenance database reporting, database updates, satellite connections, cabin entertainment, weather and routing services.
As an idea, information fusion has been bandied about for a long time in the world of information processing.

But in bizjets, fusion for the professional pilot has mostly been limited to how resourceful a crew was at using the yellow pages, the Internet or extracting tribal knowledge from the locals. Do-it-yourself projects—like adding a satellite receiver, cell phone and BlackBerry service, and engine health monitoring to your aircraft—is a challenge to the most talented of geek-infested flight departments.

But DIY is not without its surprises. Recall the marvel of your first new phone on the flightdeck, followed by the marvel you had on opening the bill. So making selected purchases, which can sometimes yield a better deal, also results in each service with a separate bill to process, making a so-called business benefit into a monthly chore. The same can be said about incremental patchwork for the flightdeck.

Evolving the flightdeck into part of a broader information system is Rockwell Collins' view of the next logical progression of technology and business tools for professional pilots and flight departments. The vision of integrating flight, communications and navigation systems with office, maintenance and cabin service support is the first of its kind.

Combining Pro Line Fusion and Ascend will also tackle the complicated issue of multiple communications and information paths to the aircraft worldwide. As a key to this new information fusion process, Rockwell Collins has developed information server avionics hardware to interface with the flightdeck and business traveler.

These new components, which will be part of Pro Line Fusion as well as the aftermarket, will make the aircraft an active node in the world of information. With all the Internet power becoming available to the passengers, it will be nice to have that incorporated into the flightdeck.

Advanced flightdeck

Rockwell's Alex Postnikov is developing interactive virtual systems between aircraft, ground and unmanned aircraft—all elements of the NextGen airspace.

In 2008 Rockwell Collins announced the launching of Pro Line Fusion, and it has made tremendous progress to its certification goal of 2011. Pro Line Fusion uses 15-in diagonal large-format displays—the largest in corporate aviation.

The displays for the center panel are designed to operate in full or half-screen mode for aircraft synoptic graphics, weather, terrain, flight planning and fully electronic charts. The pedestal displays will provide the FMS functions and graphical flight planning capability. The PFDs will provide full synthetic vision and be fully integrated with the HUD. They can also be viewed as half displays or as classic blue-over-brown.

A major technology and user focus of Pro Line Fusion is situational awareness for the crew with synthetic vision. Rockwell Collins and Bombardier are first to claim a head-up synthetic vision system (SVS).

The concept behind the use of SVS on the HUD is that in cloud or low-visibility conditions, which are outside the performance of an enhanced vision system (EVS), SVS will provide a digital perspective view integrated with HUD symbology. The use of conformal displayed terrain when viewed with flight guidance enhances crew awareness and reduces workload but, most notably, is a better way to look at a map.

Putting SVS on the HUD provides a clear improvement in pilot situational awareness. Traditional flightdecks, even those with map displays, ultimately require the pilot to complete the spatial picture in their heads, but when using SVS with the image on the HUD, an instantaneous real world map places you over the terrain.

SVS is a computer-generated conformal image (ie, it overlays the real world), and when used on the HUD will match with the outside scene. Rockwell Collins sees the advantages of SVS on the HUD for the pilot as being that terrain and other situational surface features can be located or seen and recognized at a glance, providing a quick orientation, especially for the airport or runway.

A future flightdeck may contain large-format conformal displays and head-up Ascend information for the flightcrew.

Rockwell Collins has also added to the SVS view on the HUD an airport bubble image along with additional airport and runway markings that can be used to locate the airport through the transparent HUD. In addition to the head-up SVS, Rockwell Collins plans to expand the visualization of the airport and terminal area, taxi maps and runway safety features with highly detailed database capabilities.

Rockwell Collins' Pro Line Fusion developments with SVS on a HUD are being introduced on the Bombardier Global Vision flightdeck program, which had its first flight on Aug 3, 2009. The goal shared by Bombardier and Rockwell Collins is the development of equivalent visual operations (EVO) capability.

The EVO concept introduced by FAA for NextGen is that aircraft equipped with a fusion of SVS and EFVS could operate essentially VFR in terms of pace of ATC operations. FAA sees these technologies also integrated with ADS-B capability to support all phases of flight.

In addition to the company's efforts concerning EVO capability, Pro Line Fusion includes graphical runway and taxi guidance capability and alerting functions.

Experimental just a few years ago, the rapid development of detailed airport databases along with GPS lateral accuracy to less than 10 ft have made these former laboratory concepts reality. SVS on a HUD, and the continued advances of graphical flight planning, will be key anchor points of future flightdecks.


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