Company Plans Headset to Improve Jets Pilot Safety

Fonte: The Wall Street Journal (14/06/2015)

 

The next big safety improvement for jetliners, according to a French cockpit-equipment maker, may include pilots donning what appear to be oversize monocles on which images of cockpit instruments and virtual terrain can be projected.

The company’s concept of such wearable flying aids, eventually intended to be attached to the earphones of pilots of both business and commercial jets, is slated to be unveiled Monday at the Paris International Air Show. The specialized portable screens provide a link between larger helmet-mounted displays used by the military and traditional heads-up versions, which project images to a fixed portion of the windshield.

 

The same type of technology already is being used by some military crews to improve situational awareness and provide greater field of vision than traditional heads-up displays, tailored for the needs of commercial pilots.

 

For civil applications, however, the idea is still in early development and hasn’t been embraced by any commercial aircraft manufacturer or airline. It is likely to show up first in commercial helicopters, though that could take at least several years. Experts predict the design is liable to change as the company engineers undertake what could be a 10- or 15-year certification process for airliner applications.

 

Still, the device highlights the company’s focus on developing heads-up displays that weigh less, provide greater flexibility and are simpler to install on civil aircraft than those now standard on Boeing Co.’s 787 and Airbus Group SE’s A350 jets. Other commercial jetliner models also have heads-up displays.

 

The latest iteration features an innovative optical-positioning system that “determines accurately what [cockpit instrument] you are looking at,” and then automatically projects it on the eye-level display “with a simple turn of your head,” according to Gil Michelin, executive vice president for the company. A pilot can also merely look at a point on an electronic chart and the system will automatically bring up a route from the plane’s current position to that location. The pilot can then manually activate the flight plan, according to him.

 

Airlines and plane manufacturers “are very interested in the technology, and quite eager to test it,” according to Mr. Michelin.

Some proponents say it could be easier and less expensive to retrofit than traditional versions, potentially providing a safety bonus for older jetliners or even selected general aviation aircraft.

 

The device builds on traditional heads-up displays that rely on computer-generated images, and sometimes infrared sensors, to provide enhanced views of runways and their surroundings to help aircraft land in poor visibility.

 

Similar onboard heads-up systems, which also are produced by other company, have been gaining momentum and seem poised for further regulatory approvals on both sides of the Atlantic. Chinese authorities also have stressed their value in improving safety and schedule reliability.

 

With high-resolution, color depictions of runways and other features, traditional heads-up displays are designed to allow many more airports that lack the latest ground-based navigation aids to remain open in bad weather. In the U.S., the traditional displays would enable low-visibility landings that are now prohibited at scores of midsize and smaller fields.

 

Proponents say the result would be increased capacity and improved safety, because pilots would get significantly more detail about terrain or other potential obstacles

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