Taking Synthetic Vision To The Next Level

By John Croft
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
June 03, 2013
Credit: Honeywell

The crescent moon over Tucson does little to light up the black craggy terrain beyond the windscreen of N966E, Honeywell's specially modified Dassault Falcon 900EX, as we descend at 135 kt. toward the end of Runway 11 at the international airport one night in May.

On the primary flight display however is a new breed of 3-D synthetic vision that streamlines the task of visually lining up with the pictured runway, setting up the proper glideslope and flying down to the altitude where natural vision through the windscreen must take over. I flew the prototype system with Honeywell test pilots and engineers on May 13, departing Phoenix Deer Valley Airport at sunset for a series of nighttime approaches at the Tucson (Ariz.) International and Mesa Gateway airports.

Lighting up the approach inside the cockpit is a new “SmartView” cockpit display that Honeywell Aerospace is testing as part of a proof-of-concept program with the FAA this summer. The company has applied for a supplemental type certificate for SmartVision Lower Minimums (SVLM) as a software upgrade to its EASy 2 integrated avionics suite for the Falcon 900EX. EASy is a Dassault-specific version of Honeywell's Primus Epic integrated avionics suite.

The work puts Honeywell in a small but elite group of companies that are becoming the pathfinders for what will likely be a new generation of business aviation and airline cockpit guidance systems that make terminal area navigation more intuitive by marrying the visual compulsion of a conformal 3-D synthetic vision scene with validated guidance information and symbology of a traditional precision instrument approach.

SVLM, if eventually certified, will allow pilots for the first time to navigate within the confines of the synthetic scene down to as low as 150 ft. above the runway (also known as the decision height) with the visibility as low as 1,400 ft. That kind of capability today requires significant extra ground infrastructure or onboard equipment including head-up displays.

For synthetic vision, SVLM represents a fundamental shift from systems that are certified for situational awareness purposes only, meaning pilots primarily must rely on the more traditional but less intuitive needles and bars when it comes to flying instrument approaches down to the decision height (the lowest altitude to which the aircraft can descend before pilots must see the runway environment with the naked eye).

Key to taking a synthetic vision system from “situational awareness only” to a “supplemental” navigation tool, which allows pilots to fly and shoot instrument landings within the synthetic scene, will be coming up with a secondary, independent source of navigation information to validate the synthetic scene. Legacy synthetic vision systems use a single terrain-and-obstacle database for the 3-D rendering.

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