NASA researchers are testing Synthetic Vision, a cockpit technology that will help pilots avoid deadly accidents caused by poor visibility.
Engineers from NASA’s Langley Research have loaded a computer database depicting the mountainous terrain of Vail, which is close to the Rocky Mountains, on board a NASA research aircraft, a highly modified Boeing 757 dubbed the Airborne Research Integrated Experiments System (ARIES).
The ARIES aircraft is taking off from the Colorado Springs Airport and making a number of flights in support of the NASA Aviation Safety Program’s (AvSP) Synthetic Vision Systems project, which aims to offer pilots an electronic picture of what’s outside their windows.
During three weeks of flights, pilots from NASA, Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and major airlines are testing various Synthetic Vision display concepts in real-life, terrain-challenged environment.
They are evaluating display sizes; fields of view and computer graphic options to help determine which configurations will be most effective in preventing accidents. The system includes visual cues that will give pilots precision navigation guidance and help them avoid obstacles.
Limited visibility is one of the greatest factors in most fatal aircraft accidents, according to Michael Lewis, director of the NASA Aviation Safety Program.
‘With Global Positioning Satellite signals, pilots now can know exactly where they are,’ said Lewis. ‘Add super-accurate terrain databases and graphical displays, and we can draw three-dimensional moving scenes that will show pilots exactly what’s outside. The type of accidents that happen in poor visibility just don’t happen when pilots can see the terrain hazards ahead.’
The NASA Aviation Safety Program envisions a system that will use new and existing technologies to incorporate data into displays in aircraft cockpits. The displays will show terrain, ground obstacles, air traffic, landing and approach patterns, runway surfaces and other relevant data to the flight crew.
The NASA Aviation Safety Program is a partnership with the FAA, the Department of Defence, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and universities.
This partnership supports a national goal of reducing the fatal aircraft accident rate in the US by 80 percent in 10 years.