Once the envy of every pilot, airliner cockpits are falling behind as business aircraft take the technological lead

Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Business aviation is advancing the state of the cockpit art faster than any other sector of the industry as aircraft and avionics manufacturers work together to reduce pilot workload and enhance safety.

The result of this collaboration is a new generation of more integrated and intuitive displays designed to improve pilot situational awareness. These exploit the capability of new large-format liquid crystal displays (LCDs) to present advanced graphics, for flight planning, weather uplinking and hazard warning.

Although they will appear first in high-end business jets, the new cockpit technologies are likely to move upwards onto airliner flightdecks. They are already moving downwards into general aviation cockpits.

The platform for developing these new displays is the latest generation of integrated avionics, including Honeywell's Primus Epic and Rockwell Collins' Pro Line 21. More than a dozen new and updated aircraft in production or under development use these systems, which are also penetrating the retrofit market.

These systems have the computing and communications capacity to bring enormous amounts of information on to the flightdeck. Now displays are becoming available that allow designers to use innovative approaches to presenting that information to pilots.

Corporate pilots are only just getting accustomed to the large 255 x 200mm (10 x 8in) displays enjoyed by airliner crews. These have brought airliner-style engine and systems displays onto the business-jet flightdeck, but so far manufacturers have not strayed far from familiar flight and navigation display formats.

That is changing with the availability of even larger, 330 x 255mm LCDs, essentially avionics-grade versions of commercial laptop computer "glass". With almost twice the display area to play with, cockpit designers are developing innovative and intuitive ways of integrating and presenting information.

Dassault and Gulfstream, rivals in the large-cabin aircraft market, took the first step at last year's National Business Aviation Association convention, unveiling new cockpit concepts - dubbed EASy and PlaneView, respectively - to be introduced on their top-of-the-range business jets beginning in 2003.


Both cockpits are based on Primus Epic hardware and software. Honeywell has been demonstrating the potential of large-format LCDs in the laboratory for several years, as has Collins, and now the aircraft manufacturers are bringing their human factors engineering to bear on tailoring the capabilities to their customers.

As primary human-factors architect for the system, Dassault's design objectives for the EASy concept are to improve situational awareness and reduce cockpit workload. A major contributor to both objectives is the use of cursor control devices (CCDs) to provide point-and-click control of aircraft parameters and systems via the displays, allowing the pilots to spend more time "heads up".

In the EASy cockpit, CCDs combine with large-format displays to provide the crew with access to information at eye level - a concept Dassault developed for its Rafale fighter. The four displays are arranged in a 'T', with primary display units (PDUs) in front of each pilot and multifunction display units (MDUs) stacked vertically in the centre of the panel, where they can be viewed by both crewmembers.

The PDUs feature flightpath-based symbology derived from the head-up guidance system available on Falcons. The displays are large enough to show also the engine indication and crew alerting system, a communication/navigation radio-tuning window and still have room for a pilot-selectable area.

The MDUs are pilot-selectable, but typically the upper display is configured for navigation and the lower for systems management. "Map merging" allows the crew to overlay terrain, traffic, weather, airports, airways, navaids and borders on a moving map. Information can be selected or suppressed as required.

The CCDs are mounted at the rear of the centre pedestal, within relaxed reach of each pilot's hand. The device has a trackball to drive the cursor, which is shuttled between displays using one of three switches. The other two act like the buttons on a computer mouse and allow the pilot to interact with the displays via Windows-like pull-down and pop-up menus. "Using the CCD is fast and intuitive, even for a right-handed person working left-handedly," says the company.

Pilot choice

Although Dassault believes graphical management improves the speed and accuracy of many functions, pilots will always have the choice of working in direct mode using multifunction keyboards on the pedestal. The number of control devices in the EASy cockpit is half that on Falcon flightdecks and all are easier to reach.

Workload is reduced by automating several functions, such as menu management. When entering a flight plan, for example, the cursor automatically goes to the next item when a field is filled. A failure annunciation automatically triggers the display of a synoptic diagram and checklist for the system affected.

Checklists pop up automatically as required and are linked to system synoptic displays. When fuel is transferred, for example, the fuel system diagram is displayed, showing the position and operation of pumps and valves and a graphic depiction of tank quantities. Certain functions include autosensing, the system checking off the item as soon as the required action has been performed, such as setting the flaps for take-off.

Designed for business aviation pilots, who plan their own flights, the EASy cockpit provides for graphical flight planning. Clicking on an icon on the MDU selects phase of flight; the pilot then uses the cursor and a map display to select waypoints and create or modify a flight plan. "Before any change affecting the aircraft's trajectory is validated, pilots see the consequences graphically in both the horizontal and vertical planes," says Dassault.

All the required airport, airways, navaid and other information is stored in the system's database. Clicking on a facility or waypoint on the map calls up a menu providing the pilot with options ranging from amending the route to tuning the navigation radio automatically to the frequency stored in the system's database.

The EASy cockpit is under development for the upgraded Falcon 900EX and 2000EX, and is to become the standard for all wide-body Falcons, including the new family member to be unveiled later this year. The system will enter service on the 900EX in mid-2003 and the 2000EX in early 2004.

Gulfstream's PlaneView is to enter service on the upgraded GV-SP in the latter part of 2003, and is expected to have many of the same features as the EASy. Differences will be philosophical, rather than technological. The four displays are arranged in a row across the panel while the CCDs, mounted on the cockpit sidewalls, resemble fighter-style throttle grips and incorporate a thumb-operated joystick.

The PlaneView concept encompasses not only the CCDs and large-format LCDs, but also integration of the Visual Guidance System (VGS) and Enhanced Vision System (EVS) developed for the GV and GIV-SP. VGS is the aircraft manufacturer's terminology for the Honeywell-supplied head-up display (HUD), while the EVS is an infrared-imaging sensor developed by Gulfstream to improve safety during low-visibility operations.

The EVS incorporates a Kollsman-manufactured sensor, mounted in the nose, which projects an infrared image on to the HUD. The camera is sensitive to the infrared radiation output by runway lights, allowing the pilot to locate the airport and land in low visibility. Gulfstream expects certification of the EVS for 30m (100ft) approach minimums by the third quarter, and is aiming to win approval for 50ft minimums within 24-36 months.

Display revolution

Gulfstream is installing the PlaneView cockpit suite in its GV-SP test aircraft, with the first flight scheduled for the fourth quarter. The technology is expected also to be incorporated in the much hinted-at, but as-yet unlaunched "next generation" GIV.

While new displays are revolutionising flightdecks at the top end of the business aviation market, they are also reshaping cockpits further down the general aviation scale, where several new players are trying to leverage the technology to enter the avionics market.

Goodrich launched on to the scene last year with the unveiling of its SmartDeck system. This combines large LCDs with micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) attitude/heading and air-data sensors and a local area network to create an integrated flight display and control system aimed at aircraft ranging from high-end piston singles to entry-level business jets.

The SmartDeck primary flight display can be in conventional attitude format or what Goodrich calls "synthetic vision with highway-in-the-sky", designed to make flying more intuitive. This combines a three- dimensional "out-the-window" view, a pathway navigation overlay derived from the active flight plan and a predictor function to estimate the aircraft flightpath. The multifunction display combines a moving map with hazard information, engine instrumentation and systems indications.

The system is being flight tested in a company-owned Raytheon King Air, and Goodrich is aiming for certification next year. Honeywell has a competing system, branded Bendix/King Apex, under development for aircraft ranging from piston singles to light jets.


Competition, meanwhile, is coming from unusual corners. Innovative Solutions & Support (ISS), better known for its reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) products, is flight-testing a 230 x 305mm flat-panel display in its Pilatus PC-12. The US company is aiming its display primarily at the retrofit market.

ISS' approach is to use the large screen area to recreate the conventional flight and engine instruments, as well as to display additional data such as weather and terrain, so replacing a suite of gauges in a conventional cockpit, improving reliability and maintainability. The company hopes to certificate its display this year.

Source: Flight International