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Highway in the Sky

By brgomeistr in News
Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 07:25:21 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

I've always wanted to get my pilot's license, but never had the time to attend flight school and become certified. So I was intrigued when ars-technica recently had an article about NASA's Highway in the Sky Project. The aim of HIS is to replace the cumbersome gauges on contemporary aircraft console with an easy to read display featuring gps and weather information. "Flying with a Highway in the Sky display thus becomes largely a matter of lining up the crosshairs in the screen's center with the hoops or lines--a task the average 12-year-old could accomplish with one hand while working a Game Boy with the other. "


Ships and cars have had similar gps navigation systems for years, so it makes sense for these advances to be applied to airplanes. The technology that most personal aircraft use to navigate has been the same since the 1950s; this new dispaly would merge all of the current gauges into one lcd display. The article even says that the price for this system would be about the same as current aircraft control boards. Any pilots out there who can provide insight about the feasability of this system? It sounds great to me....

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Highway in the Sky | 14 comments (14 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Old News (1.00 / 2) (#1)
by Ratnik on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 03:55:11 PM EST

This is old news, but I gave you +1 as its an interesting topic.

well. . . (3.66 / 3) (#2)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:09:08 PM EST

On the bright side, this is a great way to bring technology to the masses and make a difficult chore much simpler.

On the dark side, the air will be filled with 12 year old kids piloting planes while playing nintendo with one hand.

Blue Screen of Death (TM)?? (5.00 / 1) (#3)
by ana on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:09:34 PM EST

...Literally in this case: what happens when the computer crashes? True, modern jetliners have this "fly by wire" control system, with multiply redundant computers, etc. (Do a google search on space shuttle opsys sometime; it's amazing as an object lesson in reliable software and how to build it).

For my money, it'd sure be nice to have some old fashioned mechanical gauges aboard for when the electrical system craps out (and a pilot who knows how to read them!).

Ana

Years go by; will I still be waiting
for somebody else to understand?
--Tori Amos

Jetliners (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by weirdling on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:56:16 PM EST

Jetliners have glass cockpits as primary instruments these days, which often fail-over to electrical backups such as artificial horizon, rate-of-climb, and so on. Of course, there is still a mechanical compass, and also, normally, a small suite of vacuum powered mechanical gages as well, normally rate-of-climb, airspeed, altimeter, and artificial horizon. Without VOR, navigating in soup will be hard, but flying out of it won't be. Besides, a lot of pilots carry pocket GPS units, too...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Excellent (3.66 / 3) (#4)
by theboz on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:12:04 PM EST

"Flying with a Highway in the Sky display thus becomes largely a matter of lining up the crosshairs in the screen's center with the hoops or lines--a task the average 12-year-old could accomplish with one hand while working a Game Boy with the other. "

I always knew that boring-ass Super Nintendo game "Pilotwings" would come in handy one of these days. I can line up crosshairs on a screen to go through loops with the best of them.

On a side note. I have flown a plane once. While I didn't do takeoff or landing (definitely the difficult parts, though I theoretically know how) I found the controls easy to understand. On the smaller airplanes it isn't difficult to figure out the purpose of the equipment either, so I think someone with one day's training can do the flight in the air, although I'd want someone with more knowledge for takeoff and landing.

Stuff.

Just what we need - more convinience features (4.80 / 5) (#5)
by bgalehouse on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:22:16 PM EST

During my littly brother's graduation ceremony, I was amazed at the number of people in the bleachers who persisted in using cameras with flashes. They were clearly too far away for the flash to do a damn bit of good. Even worse where those with little toy camcorder lights.

I'm not a serious photographer, but I like being able to actually control my camera. I like understanding the tradoff between fstop and shutter speed.

I will never own a car with an automatic transmisson; torque converters seem silly to me.

Now, back to the topic at hand. A reasonably smart geek can buy a flight simulator and learn to navigate - it will take maybe 20-30 hours of practice to get it down. Less if you simulate an airplane with GPS installed. What no simulator can teach you, and what this highway in the sky will never help you with, is learning to land, and learning to control the plane in emergencies.

Jetliners have very expensive autopilot systems. But even the airline pilots will tell you that the most important button on any autopilot is the 'off' button.

Flying isn't super difficult. The legal minimum time in the US to get a basic private pilot's license is 40 hours in flight - 50-60 hours is more commonly required. The groundschool is maybe equivalent to a half semester college course. General aviation is safe if you don't screw up. Absolutly unforgiving if you do.

The last thing that I think we need is a bunch of people convinced that they can fly safely with less training, because of technology. Within a cloud, if your gauges fail, you have maybe 3 minute before the plane is out of control. I've seen glass cockpits advertised as 'running on windows NT'. I think I prefer a pair of quality mechanical guages (one run by engine vacum, one by electricity) to that any day.

Rely on a computer? (3.33 / 3) (#6)
by www.sorehands.com on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:35:17 PM EST

What happens when a system or multiple systems fail? If you only learn point and click flying, you are DEAD!

I know someone who was on an A300(or A3000) airbus that could not land. There anti-stall altitude input went on the fritz. The ansi-stall system prevents the plane from stalling. When you land, you are stalling the plane. The anti-stall will not function under 100 feet. They woke an engineer in France to find the right fuse to pull.



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Stalling in jets (none / 0) (#13)
by cameldrv on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 08:24:07 PM EST

You never stall a jet. You fly it right into the ground. The wings flying until all of the wheels are on the ground. This is extremely important because due to the aerodynamics of aircraft made to fly so fast, stalling the wings very quickly leads to a separation of airflow over the control surfaces. Usually this is not recoverable. This is why jets have a stall warning system which is active. If you are coming close to a stall, the airplane will warn you first, and then forcibly push the yoke forward. If you are at low altitude, this will of course kill you. However, it is not normal procedure to stall at any altitude in a jet.

[ Parent ]
Another benefit (none / 0) (#7)
by rikek on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 04:42:56 PM EST

Along with making flights safer and reducing some pilot error (and in spite of the pilot laziness that this might cause a bit of), could one advantage of the "fly through the hoops" (and other) technology be an increase in the supply of pilots? I'm not absolutely certain, but if I remember my network news hype, there is supposed to be a shortage of pilots right now -- maybe this would be beneficial for the airlines (they can fly more planes for longer periods of time). An increase in flights would also lead to a decrease in ticket costs (ceteris paribus, yadda yadda). Of course, maybe it won't do anything at all; I don't know enough about flying planes or the airline market to say much here -- can anybody else support/refute this?

I doubt it (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by weirdling on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:49:37 PM EST

The 'highway in the sky' program is to add sophistication to small aircraft. Large aircraft already have most of this. A pilot that is going to be responsible for the safety of a few hundred people several thousand feet off the ground must be carefully vetted. The shortage of pilots is due to the rapid expansion of airlines in the face of relatively low starting salaries. In other words, I wanted to be a pilot exactly as long as it took to find out that they paid just $21k to start...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Most of the training is what if's... (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by gwaihir on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:26:11 PM EST

My father was a pilot, and as he (and other pilots) will tell you, most of the training courses aren't about flying the plane, it's about what to do in an emergency.


Anyone can fly a plane, take off and landing are a little harder, but emergencies are why not every yokel has a pilot's license. You need to know the procedure for when you are flying along happily when you suddenly lose half a wing and one engine--stuff like that. So the possibility of average people flying their own planes is small, unless many more people go through the training.


Another problem is that pilots (and everyone else) get used to gauges. Having a digital display may be nice, but you subconciously train yourself to recognize the difference between say, the altimiter reading at 1000 and 10000 feet. Changing everything over to a new system will nullify the extra efficiency that the pilots get from reading the same gauge millions of times over. Think about it, how would you like it if a digital display was installed in your car's dash. Unless the new display looked exactly like your old display, you probably wouldn't like it (I know I don't like driving different cars because of this reason, but that may be me).
-- America has a legal system, not a justice system. There is a world of difference between the two.
I'm not holding my breath (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by FlightTest on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:51:18 PM EST

I think there's a ton of hurdles this will have to jump before it makes it into certificated aircraft. Homebuilders may see it fairly soon, but I'd be suprised (shocked, actually) to see it in widespread use in general aviation within 20 years. I say this for a number of reasons;

Beauracray. Getting FAA certification on ANYTHING is a formidable task. Most piston-powered aircraft to this day rely on fixed timing magneto-ignition. Why? Because designing and certifying an electronic ignition system with fail-safe backup is very dificult. Such products are only now coming to market.

Fear Of The New. Closely related to beauracracy. The Beech Starship is an excellent example here. The FAA had never seen an all-composite airplane before, so it slapped a bunch of requirements onto the Starship that ultimately played a very large role in making the Starship a monumental flop. The losses from that project nearly drove Beechcraft of of business. In the case of GPS, the FAA was driven by external forces to fast-track acceptance of GPS-based navigation. I don't see any external forces exerting pressure on the FAA to accept HITS. NASA's track record on getting the FAA to change is unfortunately very poor.

Cost. It's been said the best way to make a small fortune in aviation is to start with a large one. I am extreamly skeptical of a HITS panel costing the same as a current panel, unless they are refering to a current EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrumentation System) panel, which starts at around $100,000. BTW, aviation has had GPS navigation for years as well, and LORAN before that. HITS is much more than GPS navigation.

Safety. The one LCD display panel creates mulitple single failure points that can bring down your entire system. The panel itself could fail. An electrical failure would leave you staring at a blank screen. Sure hate to have that thing BSOD on you in the middle of an instrument approach into Colorado Springs. Airliners have mostly independant power and sensors for pilot and co-pilot, plus a third set of, you guessed it, the old round instruments for backup. Small GA aircraft can't afford the weight penalty. The use of mulitple systems (electrical, vacuum, pitot-static) yields a measure of safety in the current designs. Even with total electrical failure in the clouds, I've still got altitude, airspeed, heading (compass) and usually the artificial horizon powered from a vacuum pump on the engine. Plenty enough to keep me upright while I dig out my handheld and get vectored to sunny skies. And I have yet to see any display that is easy to read in direct sunlight.

No Benefit. I don't see a big benefit to HITS. Navigating just isn't that hard. I certainly don't find the gages cumbersome. In actuality, airplanes rarely crash due to navigational errors. Most GA crashes are loss of control in instrument conditions (in the clouds, ala JFK, Jr.) and running out of gas, followed closely by gross errors in judgement (buzzing, performing acrobatics in aircraft not certified for them, etc). The navigation-related crashes that do occur are usually preceeded by pilot error in setting up the equipment in the first place. I don't see how HITS will fix, or even help alieviate the problem of pilot error.

I'm not as resistant to change as I sound. The first time I used an HSI (navigation information superimposed on a heading indicator) I was hooked. GPS offers low-cost instrument approaches into airports that never could have afforded ground-base approach equipment. But merely changing the way navigation information is presented in order to make it look "hi-tech" is pointless.



Why did I flip? I got tired of coming up with last minute desparate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
HITS and training (none / 0) (#12)
by cameldrv on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 08:10:17 PM EST

This is certainly a development that makes it easier for a novice to navigate, but there is a lot more to flying than just navigation. One of the major things you learn in pilot training is all of the various ways to deal with the air traffic system. There are certain patterns of speech which you must learn when talking to controllers. None of this goes away until ATC is fully automated. Another huge part of pilot training is emergency procedures. With a system like this, if you lose the electrical system, you are pretty much screwed. Even in the big glass-cockpit jets, they still have manual altimiters, attitude indicators, airspeed indicators, and sometimes a couple more instruments which are totally separate from the main computerized systems and can run off internal batteries if necessary. If you own a HITS type plane you will need to know how to use these if you have a problem. Until we have reliable software which can handle the flight, including all possible emergencies automatically, becoming a pilot probably isn't going to get much easier because you still have to know what is going on with the plane to fly it and troubleshoot it.

It's already easy to get a pilot license... (none / 0) (#14)
by joto on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 11:40:45 PM EST

All you need is money, time and patience to take the classes (and reasonably good health, you need a certificate from your physician). There's a lot more to flying than just reading all those instruments (which is pretty easy anyway). I can't say that this makes it look that much simpler... Most likely it will just be one more thing to learn, as you will have to learn the traditional instruments anyway to get flying.

Is this instrument going to handle aircraft maintenance and control? Communicating with the tower? Writing logbooks? (maybe?) Take-off and landing? Any emergency situation?

I think you will just have to take your classes if you want to become a pilot.

Highway in the Sky | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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