Since the earliest days of flight, the aviation
sector has worked to develop better ways for pilots to understand
their aircraft’s position relative to the ground.
The evolution has gone from visual cues
outside the aircraft to in-cockpit digital displays with data-rich
views of the environment.
A cornerstone of today’s cockpits is the Primary
Flight Display (PFD), an electronic instrument that brings
together the functions of six previously separate gauges on the
panel: the airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, turn
coordinator, horizontal situation indicator and vertical speed
“Every generation of PFD gave pilots a better
version of what they already were used to,” said Fabrice
Bousquet, an Airbus vision systems expert. “In 2015, we started
working on a research and technology project that would break with
tradition to exploit the full potential of modern screen
technology – giving pilots their data superimposed onto a
nearly-real visual representation of where they’re heading.”
This led to development of a synthetic vision
system (or SVS) that received a positive response from pilots
during flight tests. Crucial to the SVS’ success was Airbus’ work
on another project – the primary full-format flight display (PF3D)
– because, without changes, older-generation PFDs would have
degraded the visual dimension of information being presented.
to adapt the scales because they weren’t uniform across the
display, which would have resulted in natural features like
mountains being flattened,” said Alexis Frenot, the SVS and
PF3D project leader. “We also needed the capacity to show pilots
their trajectory. While existing PFDs give pilots the information
needed to work this out for themselves, our new system actually
Teams for the SVS and PF3D systems have now
merged and are conducting feasibility studies in advance of the
display’s anticipated commercial service entry in 2021.
from customer focus groups that airlines and their pilots would
like to have cockpits with this technology,” said Frenot, “and
that they value the added situational awareness it provides.”
The combined team is confident these new
displays will become the norm.
“We have a wave of pilots who grew
up with information-rich screens, and the benefits are obvious to
them,” Frenot added. “Add the ability to ‘see’, even at night
and in poor conditions, and you have the best of the old and the
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