Project aims to develop technologies and procedures to boost safety for small aircraft flying between small airports

The first preview of technologies being developed under NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) programme will be given by the Maryland Mid-Atlantic SATSlab on 15 June. The pre-demonstration at Maryland's Easton airport will pave the way for proof-of-concept flight demonstrations planned for next year at Danville, Virginia.

The SATS programme aims to develop technologies and procedures to enable public transport using small aircraft flying between small airports. Under the programme, NASA is working with several regional SATSlabs bringing together state aviation organisations, private-sector companies, academic institutions and user groups.

The Easton event will involve ground and flight demonstrations of a number of SATS technologies, says John McKinley, director of the University Research Foundation, a member of the Maryland Mid-Atlantic SATSlab. These include the enhanced pilot information centre (EPIC); low-cost head-up display (HUD); Cockpit Associate; advanced data fusion processor (ADFP); and low-cost ceilometer.

EPIC will network all the automated weather observing systems (AWOS) in a state or region to overcome the limits on instrument flight-rules operations at small airports that lack the meteorological equipment. Minimum descent altitudes are higher at airports without an AWOS, says McKinley. EPIC will also provide pilots and airport managers with greater access to aviation services and information, he adds.

Kollsman is developing a low-cost HUD suitable for installation in general-aviation aircraft and affordable for air-taxi and charter operators, says McKinley, with a prototype to be available by next January. Meanwhile, the first prototype of the Cockpit Associate is being installed in the SATSlab's Cessna 402 testbed.

Applied Systems Intelligence is developing the Cockpit Associate, or "co-pilot in a box", using automation technology pioneered for the US Army's Rotorcraft Pilots Associate. The system will take graphical and textual data coming into the cockpit "and assimilate the information into knowledge", says McKinley. The system will help the pilot with in-flight replanning.

Already installed in the 402, the ADFP is being developed by the University Research Foundation to act as a hub for all digital information in the aircraft, including dynamic data such as fuel state and GPS position and static information such as databases, formatting it for the Cockpit Associate and displays. "The ADFP will route critical alerts to the HUD," says McKinley.

Still 10 months from a prototype, Belfort Instruments' low-cost ceilometer will monitor ceiling height as well as visibility along the approach path and is intended to provide small airports with improved weather reporting. "The intent of the SATSlab is to integrate these technologies," says McKinley.

The NASA SATS programme is seen as developing technology that will enable the creation of a US air-taxi industry using small general-aviation aircraft including the new class of very light jets.



Source: Flight International