Radar goes beyond detecting weather to help pilots land

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Rockwell Collins' proven and reliable MultiScan™ weather radar is flying today on more than 7,000 commercial aircraft around the world. The system has helped thousands of pilots safely traverse hazardous weather to keep passengers as comfortable as possible. Now, MultiScan could also be used to help pilots land.

Flight tests underway at Rockwell Collins are exploring the use of MultiScan weather radar as a ground imaging sensor for a head-up display (HUD) during approaches. After several months of testing, the results are very promising and a significant first step in achieving lower landing credit beyond what current Enhanced Flight Vision Systems (EFVS) can provide today in low-visibility conditions.

EFVS consists of a HUD with an enhanced vision sensor, and in certain landing situations, the FAA allows pilots to use EFVS to fly down to 100 feet. The FAA is implementing new regulations that extend the EFVS credit all the way to the ground with 1000 ft runway visual range (RVR), further increasing the operational value of the EFVS equipment.

The ultimate goal of any flight crew is to get to their destination safely every time. Many times, the weather has other plans.

Today's enhanced vision systems, which use infrared (IR) sensing, are an incredibly useful tool for giving pilots a depiction of what is on the ground as they approach a runway. However, this is dependent on the IR sensor being able to penetrate all weather.

Aircraft equipped with IR cameras provide excellent visibility at night, in haze and in light fog. IR, however, does not effectively penetrate high moisture weather phenomena, like dense marine fog or heavy snow. It's not a flaw in the design, it's a physical limitation.

Rockwell Collins' MultiScan weather radar operates at a much lower wave frequency than IR, allowing it to provide ground imaging in all weather. Plus, unlike other technologies such as millimeter wave radar, MultiScan is a standard feature on thousands of aircraft and therefore would not require additional hardware installation, which would add weight and increase the drag of the aircraft.

Setting the Scene for Combined Head-up Vision

Many of today's new aircraft, primarily in business aviation, come equipped with a high-resolution synthetic terrain database that paints a virtual picture of the outside world for pilots. It's known in the business aviation industry as “synthetic vision”. This gives pilots a greater sense of their surroundings, which makes for safer flying in low-visibility conditions or at night. Rockwell Collins is the only company that has certified the use of synthetic vision on a HUD.

Rockwell Collins is developing technology to take its synthetic vision on a HUD solution and combine it with its new multi-spectral enhanced vision system, the EVS-3000, which improves sensing fidelity through a broader range of wavelength detection, including LED lights. The fusing of these technologies into a single HUD view will provide pilots a clearer view of what's ahead while keeping their heads up and eyes out the window, the way pilots fly and are meant to land.

Pictured above:  Rockwell Collins' combined head-up vision system as seen through its simulator

Going a step further, integrating MultiScan data into the combined synthetic/enhanced HUD EFVS system would ensure that the runway environment is detected in all weather. This capability, along with the extra aircraft position confirmation MultiScan provides, may also allow pilots to use EFVS in dense fog conditions, eliminating the number of diversions. The combination will save aircraft operators money and keep passengers happy.

Story posted: December 23, 2014

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