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NASA, FAA Experts Discuss Synthetic Vision for Pilots

Representatives from NASA and the FAA met this week to discuss technology expected to revolutionize visibility from the cockpit. Panelists joined an NBAA2007 session as members of an RTCA committee tasked with developing performance and use standards for enhanced vision systems (EVS) and synthetic vision systems (SVS).

The purpose of the two vision systems is to map the topographical area around an aircraft, thereby increasing safety and helping pilots to make better use of airspace. With 600 systems already in use, and many more in development, the timing is critical to establish standards for use and performance. The standards will later guide FAA protocols and ensure that all technologies are compatible.

Enhanced vision systems are not new, but are using more advanced technology than ever. As the name implies, the systems improve a pilot’s vision. They do so with the use of a camera mounted to the nose of a plane, which generally employs infrared vision to cut though obstructions such as cloud-cover, rain or darkness. The camera images then are overlaid on a screen containing other vital flight measurements.

Synthetic vision systems are a newer technology, which generates computer images of surrounding terrain, derived from complex topographical data housed in on-board computers. The result is something comparable to what the laymen might see looking at Google Earth.

The latest technology allows the two systems to be used in tandem, giving pilots a visual representation so accurate that some experts say it could replace an aircraft’s glass windshield. “The key is integration of information,” said NASA’s Randy Baily. The technology is grounded in “trying to provide a better way of interpreting information for flightcrews,” he continued.

What’s next for the technology? Terry Stubblefield, FAA, says system integration holds advantages for airport capacity, traffic flow and use of airspace. The technology is expected to allow pilots to fly closer to land features, while being less likely to abort landing procedures during poor weather – both functions that would increase airspace while decreasing congestion.

“We need to have some sort of standardization as we go along,” commented Lou Volchansky from the FAA.

“Right now, we’re trying to come up with a template that guides what the technology does and what requirements it must meet.”

FMI: www.nasa.gov, www.nbaa.org

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