June 2015

In today’s world, instant access to information is expected in our daily lives – and the cockpit should be no different.

Tablets and electronic flight bags (EFBs) are commonplace, replacing massive suitcases of paper carried on board to reduce weight and make it faster and easier to access and input flight-critical information.

The next step? Combining these information-enabling devices with a new generation of connectivity options in the air and on the ground.

For flight crews, this means the ability to get a more complete weather picture created by inputs from on-board weather radar systems, dispatchers and even other aircraft. Other capabilities include flight plan and technical logs, uploaded in real time, as well as new flight and crew recordkeeping tools to instantly share data with back-office operations for better management of human assets.

So how do we get there? By continuing to build on the pieces we have in place. Let’s take a closer look at the interfaces, information and connectivity pieces associated with the flight deck of today – and where that can take us in the future.

The evolving human-machine interface

Today’s new flight decks – with graphic, all-digital, large-screen, multifunction displays – look nothing like the hodgepodge of electromechanical, single function gauges that still exists on older aircraft. In fact, these “glass cockpits” are much like the computers we use in our office environments. In smaller aircraft, some of these displays are even touch-screen, like on Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics systems.

The evolution to these more intuitive human-machine interfaces didn’t occur just because of the latest technology – they were developed with a purpose. Through human factors research, we strive to deliver ever-increasing amounts of information in ways that will best suit the pilot’s attention, workload and decision making.

This human factors research is what led to the development of the head-up display (HUD). Placed in the pilot’s line of sight, the transparent HUD allows pilots to keep eyes forward while still having access to essential flight information during some of the most critical moments of flight.

And this isn’t all. Other human-machine interface methods such as multi-touch, voice and gesture control are under exploration, as well as emerging display technologies like 3D and OLEDs. Linda Peyton Senior director, Avionics Products Engineering, Commercial Systems Simon Tudge Senior director, Strategy and Business Development, Information Management Services Flight Deck: A new phase in information management for flight crews continued.

Going beyond the black box

As we know in our own lives, the quality of the work we do is only as good as the information we get. And the quality of the information that pilots have access to – whether it’s communication, navigation or surveillance data – must be of the highest integrity. We’ve made unbelievable strides in this area, but the advent of new technologies makes the future even more exciting.

Today, the information that’s fed into the cockpit traditionally comes from hidden “black boxes” on board the aircraft. These brains of the plane are actively processing data about their respective functions and delivering them to the pilots. That information is increasingly being gathered from sources beyond the black box – including sensors positioned on the outside of the aircraft. In the future, this information will be streamed in from sources on the ground or even from other aircraft.

Two great examples of how new sources of information are being harnessed and displayed in the flight deck are enhanced vision systems (EVS) and synthetic vision systems (SVS), each of which greatly increases situational awareness.

These technologies have created new ways to display information so that pilots can overcome weather and reduced visibility issues. EVS integrates infrared images so pilots can literally see the runway environment, aircraft on the ground and moving vehicles through darkness and continued 10 fog. And making the picture even better, SVS creates computer-generated images of the world around – airport detail and surrounding terrain in real time, so the pilot is always flying on a clear day. As valuable as EVS and SVS are to pilots in a head-down position, the benefit grows markedly when they are depicted on a head-up display (HUD). Today, Rockwell Collins is combining both EVS and SVS into a combined vision system to create a single “best” view of the outside world – a view that could even be augmented by additional imaging sources in the future.

Now imagine the possibilities that exist if we can leverage new sources of information beyond the aircraft and new connectivity pipelines to create an even more complete picture – and even enhance airline back-office operations.

Information-enabled flight decks can bring new rigor to back-office assessments of FOQA and MOQA data.

For example, information-enabled flight decks can also bring new rigor to back-office assessments of Flight Operations and Maintenance Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA and MOQA) data, resulting in efficiencies and cost savings. FOQA data – automatically downloaded at the end of a flight to airline operations via Wi-Fi® or AeroMACS – can help identify performance trends that can be used to improve approach and landing safety. Similarly, maintenance data is sent to operators on the ground in essentially real time, allowing maintenance crews to be ready to repair immediately to help ensure dispatch reliability and reduced unplanned aircraft-on-ground issues.

Securing flight decks in the information age

The advent of the information-enabled flight deck – passing data between on-board systems as well as with air traffic control and airlines below – brings remarkable potential for efficiency and safety improvements. But as recent media discussions have highlighted, these benefits are accompanied by sincere concerns for data integrity and security.

Clearly, avionics and cabin solutions manufacturers place the highest priority on security of these systems, and Rockwell Collins is a leader in providing secure information management solutions to our markets. Primary areas of focus include building in high levels of redundancy, managing the separation of passenger systems from flight-critical systems, and developing and implementing enhanced security features.

We are also collaborating with industry regulators, customers and suppliers to develop new standards and cyber policies to assure the highest levels of protection. And at Rockwell Collins, our commercial avionics teams work hand-in-hand with colleagues in our Government Systems business who develop mission-critical, military-grade security protocols for warfighters and even heads of state. These collaborations help engineers identify and adopt the most secure yet flexible solutions to the critical issue of information security in flight.

Conclusion

In today’s data-infused world, there is remarkable potential for information-enabled and connected avionics to ease pilots’ workflow, enhance decision making and help crews and airlines better manage their resources. By building upon the designs of today, while embracing new ways to intuitively deliver the right information at the right time, we can ultimately gain enhancements in functionality, safety and efficiency for pilots, airlines and the entire aviation community.

Posted by Rockwell Collins