Flights next year will evaluate multi-sensor system designed to allow pilot to look anywhere within fused image

Boeing Phantom Works plans to flight test a multi-sensor enhanced and synthetic vision system (EVS/SVS) on a US Air Force C-17 transport late next year. The Air Force Research Laboratory-funded tests will involve the evaluation of fused sensor and synthetic imagery on helmet-mounted, head-up and head-down displays.

The system includes three forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors providing a 192°-wide field of view (FoV). Using the helmet-mounted display (HMD), with its 40° FoV, the pilot will be able to look anywhere within the panoramic FLIR image, including downwards "through" the instrument panel, says programme manager Jeff Guell.

Co-located with the centre FLIR, which has a 68° horizontal by 40° vertical FoV, is a low light-level television (LLLTV) camera. Within the LLLTV's 30° x 40° FoV, the pilot will see a fused infrared and electro-optical image, says Guell. The system includes a millimetre-wave radar (MMWR) with better weather penetration, but lower resolution, and the mix of sensors in the fused image will vary depending on the outside environment, he says.

Underlying the fused sensor image is three-dimensional digital terrain generated by an onboard database. This synthetic image uses satellite photographs overlaid on a geoid terrain model conforming to the curvature of the Earth, removing errors, says Guell. Database resolution is better than 1m around airports, where obstacles are also displayed in three dimensions.

C-17 flight tests will involve a binocular HMD and glareshield head-up display (HUD) and a colour head-down display (HDD). Using the head-tracked, visor-projected HMD, the pilot will be able to look anywhere within the fused EVS/SVS image. Looking downwards, the pilot will see a moving map, says Guell, while looking upwards will bring up a "virtual rearview mirror" showing an aft-looking infrared image of the cargo hold.

The FLIRs are inexpensive, uncooled microbolometers, and the LLLTV has a "very wide dynamic range, almost to total darkness", says Guell.

The HMD uses high-resolution liquid-crystal displays, as does the advanced "digital light engine" HUD. Both are provided by BAE Systems, which also supplies the MMWR, although Boeing plans to test an alternative radar.

Phantom Works has developed the image processing using high-end commercial PCs, says Guell, but hopes to fly a more powerful processor developed with BAE Systems using field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) to eliminate latency in the images. While PCs process the images frame by frame, FPGAs allow faster pixel-by-pixel processing, he adds.

Source: Flight International