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Changes in the Cockpit

Part of NASA’s commitment to making air travel safe and convenient for more Americans at more locations is the development of instrument flight gear that is intuitive to use. The industry has developed synthetic vision equipment to create a pilot’s eye view of obscured terrain; NASA is adding ideas to the discussion. 

An example is showcased in a tabletop flight simulator mimicking a Cessna 172 equipped with synthetic vision, and located in the back of the NASA exhibits building at AirVenture 2004 in Oshkosh, Wis., July 27 through August 2. Visitors may take the controls and thread the imaginary Cessna through a series of green boxes superimposed like a beckoning tunnel on a convincing computer-generated approach to Juneau, Alaska. By keeping a circle on the screen passing through the green squares as the Juneau runway approaches, the pilot can bring the aircraft clearly to decision height for landing.

Image right: AirVenture visitor Elijah Ronning coached earnest Olivia Ronning on the use of NASA?s tabletop Cessna 172 simulator featuring a synthetic vision display.

The tabletop simulator has been popular with children at AirVenture, and should be readily workable by non-pilots with a little practice. Michael Uenking, who came from NASA Langley Research Center to showcase the synthetic vision display, said an operational system that works like the simulator could import global positioning system (GPS) signals to map any airport or en route terrain feature, using a notebook computer with a photo-realistic database to generate images in a simplified glass cockpit.

The week before AirVenture 2004, a NASA Langley test crew used a Gulfstream GV at Reno/Tahoe International Airport to evaluate an advanced synthetic vision suite operated by FAA, industry, and airline pilots as well. With the pilot’s windscreen obscured to simulate instrument conditions, NASA evaluated an integrated version of synthetic vision including a bird’s eye view of terrain, a voice recognition system, a runway incursion prevention system with an airport moving map as well as software to predict and send an alarm about possible runway incursions. The Gulfstream’s system also uses sensors and database integrity monitoring equipment to compare the outside world to the generated pictures as a check on accuracy.

The hands-on NASA display is staffed by the Synthetic Vision Systems General Aviation Team from NASA Langley and the University of Iowa. Uenking says video-game savvy kids often do best at the synthetic vision simulator.

AirVenture 2004 is a major annual aviation event that attracts thousands of airplanes and as many as 800,000 visitors. More information about AirVenture is available at www.airventure.org.