With only 10% of spending on unmanned systems going towards ground equipment, and a significant proportion of air vehicle losses blamed on operator error, Raytheon has tapped into the gaming industry to design a "virtual cockpit" control station. The company believes its Universal Control System (UCS) is the first on the market designed specifically around the operator.

Raytheon is demonstrating the UCS to potential customers, including operators of the General Atomics Predator family of unmanned air vehicles and Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk - for which the company developed the ground system.

The virtual cockpit merges narrow-angle imagery from UAV sensors with a wide-angle synthetic view of the battlefield generated from a terrain database and presented on a wrap-around display to enhance operator situational awareness and improve efficiency and safety, says Raytheon. The operator can stand or sit, and mobile and laptop versions will be offered.

The open-architecture UCS is compliant with NATO's Stanag 4586 standard interface for UAV control systems, and can control multiple dissimilar air vehicles, says the company. Stanag-compliant interfaces are being developed for several US UAVs, including the army's AAI Shadow and General Atomics Warrior and the navy's Northrop Fire Scout.

A 2004 US Federal Aviation Administration study of UAV mishaps found that human-factor issues in the command interface were present in 21% of Shadow and 67% of Predator accidents, suggesting there is room for improvement in operator systems, says Raytheon.

Source: Flight International