Instead of starting the new year with some lofty goals for improving overall airmanship in advanced aircraft, or looking back at what positive trends we can bring forward from last year, we decided to get out in front of what we think will become one of the hottest aviation technology topics of the next decade. Synthetic Vision Guidance Systems (SVGS) are here now, are going to become ubiquitous this decade, and are going to impact virtually every aviation operation.
In trying to inform ourselves of this next big step in the evolution of cockpit display technology, we first tried to answer two questions: What is it? and What does it do? After we considered the answers, it became obvious to us that there were more questions—so we will take on the first two with this posting, and follow-up with a second part in a couple of weeks. In that way, our readers can post comments or contact us with their own views—allowing the users to enter into a debate which so far has been dominated by the manufacturers, regulators, and researchers.
What is it? SVGS uses existing technologies to create an on-board image of a virtual VFR world in the cockpit. Basically SVGS is the sum of the following systems and components:
- A digital representation of relevant, critical features of the outside environment, plus…
- Flight display symbology (like flight path vector, heading, etc.), plus…
- Precise, trusted position information, plus…
- Information from weather-penetrating systems (maybe), plus…
- Head-up or head-down (or both) displays for use by the crew.
SVGS results from the fusion of these technologies in a way that hopefully is elegant, intuitive, and easy for crews to use.
What does it do? SVGS is much more than another Situational Awareness (SA) tool. In a way, because it combines so much of the “SA” technologies that are present on most modern flight decks already, it can be said that it is the ultimate SA tool. And the problem that this tool solves is a problem that has existed since the dawn of aviation: the visibility problem.
To paraphrase the NASA research, SVGS is a “visibility solution to the visibility problem” and it’s not just for military use, air carriers with billion-dollar budgets, or expensive, high-end aircraft owned by private flight departments. The visibility problem that it solves could be the one that causes a fatality when a GA pilot inadvertently enters IMC conditions; or it could be the visibility problem that causes a crew to lose situational awareness resulting in another CFIT accident; or it could be the visibility problem that causes billions of dollars of lost business caused by extensive weather delays across the ATC system.
In our survey of the research, reporting, and regulations that have been building in recent years around SVGS, we found over two dozen operational and safety benefits across the entire contemporary aviation system (we’ve listed some of our references below for the most curious readers).
A simple overview of the technology and its benefits leads us to a few more questions and concerns about the use of this evolutionary flight deck technology; we’ll confront a few of these issues in our next posting, and ask you, the reader, to submit comments that you think we should investigate between now and then.
Think about it.
Until our next post, fly safe, and always, fly first
L.J. Prinzel and L.J. Kramer: Synthetic Vision Systems. Research and Technology Directorate, Crew Systems and Operations Branch (D-318) Mail Stop 152, NASA-Langley Research Center. Hampton VA. 23681. USA. 2006.
John Croft: Uncertainty Dogs Next-Generation Synthetic Vision Systems. Aviation Week and Space Technology. May 1, 2015.
Advisory Circular 20-185: Airworthiness Approval of Synthetic Vision Guidance Systems. December 17, 2015. U. S Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration.