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
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
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
“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