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"Synthetic vision could make piloting safer"



Sunday, July 23, 2006

Synthetic vision could make piloting safer
AIDED VISION: Gulfstream is touting a new system that displays a
computer-generated image of the view outside an aircraft, enabling pilots to
fly even in heavy fog and clouds 
The Associated Press


FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND - Nail-biting blind landings in foul weather may soon
be a lot less perilous, thanks to a new corporate jet technology that could
also find its way into airliner cockpits.

At the Farnborough Airshow this week, Gulfstream became the first executive
plane maker to offer the system, which displays a computer-generated view of
the terrain ahead -- even in heavy fog or cloud, when the ground can be
invisible to the most advanced infra-red sensors.

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp claimed that the so-called Synthetic Vision
System, or SVS, will result in "more accurate tactical flight decisions by
pilots and ultimately increased safety."

The Honeywell equipment chosen by Gulfstream is a highly detailed,
three-dimensional satellite navigation display for planes. Without SVS,
satellite navigation already enables pilots to pinpoint their position and
avoid some hazards -- but not to carry out landing approaches or other
precision maneuvers in low visibility.

Instead of the traditional blue-over-brown artificial horizon, a pilot using
the new display sees an ever-changing virtual view from the cockpit --
overlaid with the familiar altitude, attitude, speed and heading indicators.

Despite appearances, it is nothing like a video game, Honeywell vice
president Robert Smith said in an interview.

"This is not Microsoft Flight Simulator," he said.

The software draws on an extensive global database of runways and obstacles,
superimposed on global terrain mapping data gathered by the space shuttle
Endeavor in a February 2000 radar survey of Earth's surface.

Like in-car systems, it can also incorporate real-time traffic information
from other sources, flashing up collision-avoidance warnings when planes are
nearby or when the runway ahead is already in use.

Gulfstream expects to get the required certification from the US Federal
Aviation Administration in 2007. Spokesman Robert Baugniet declined to give
any information on the pricing of the system -- to be sold as an optional
upgrade to the company's G350, G450, G500 and G550 business jets.

The FAA initially had reservations about the safety of SVS displays, but has
come to see the benefits, officials say.

"They could potentially reduce accidents of the type that often happen in
bad weather, at night or in limited visibility," FAA spokeswoman Alison
Duquette said.

Bad weather is often a factor in the loss-of-control incidents that were
responsible for 91 percent of fatal air accidents last year, according to
the administration's figures.

Nevertheless, there are still concerns that in some situations, pilots could
be lulled into a false sense of security by the SVS -- which does not itself
detect potential obstacles in a plane's path, such as other aircraft or
runway obstructions.

"Synthetic Vision may be so compelling that pilots try to use it beyond the
intended function," the FAA cautioned in its guidelines in December last
year.

But experts predict the technology will save lives, particularly during
low-visibility landings at smaller airports without state-of-the-art
instrument landing systems -- or those where mountains or other obstacles
force pilots to follow difficult approach paths.

Nevertheless, Honeywell and its competitors were hoping SVS will eventually
catch on with commercial carriers.

Advocates say the technology could help avoid accidents such as the 1997
crash in Guam, when a Korean Air 747 plowed into a rocky hillside while
attempting to land in rain, killing 228 people. A report concluded that
problems with the airport's low-altitude warning device may have been a
factor.

SVS could appear in airliners around 2012-2014, he said, declining to
elaborate on discussions with other aircraft makers and airlines.

Rockwell Collins Inc, another US avionics maker, is developing its own SVS
displays and also expects demand from airlines and from another of its
regular customers -- the US Air Force.

"We also see military applications," company spokesman Nancy Welsh said.

"Imagine you're flying in a brown-out [thick dust cloud] in Iraq. Synthetic
vision might be quite useful," she said.


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