Press Release

Flying laboratory takes a safety synthetic tour of the Rockies

By SpaceRef Editor
September 5, 2001
Filed under ,

NASA researchers are testing a revolutionary cockpit
technology that will help pilots avoid deadly accidents
caused by poor visibility. A passenger jet, equipped with
futuristic, three-dimensional computer displays, is flying
over the Rocky Mountains not far from Vail, Colo.

Engineers from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton,
Va., have loaded a computer database depicting Vail’s
mountainous terrain on board a NASA research aircraft known
as ARIES or Airborne Research Integrated Experiments System.
ARIES is a highly modified Boeing 757 passenger jet
transformed into a “flying simulator.”

The ARIES aircraft is taking off from the Colorado Springs
Airport and making a number of flights over the Eagle County
Regional Airport in support of the NASA Aviation Safety
Program’s (AvSP) Synthetic Vision Systems project. The NASA
AvSP is working with industry teams to create and refine
Synthetic Vision, a revolutionary display system for cockpits
that will offer pilots an electronic picture of what’s
outside their windows, no matter the weather or time of day.

During three weeks of flights, pilots from NASA, Boeing, the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and major airlines are
testing various Synthetic Vision display concepts in a real-
life, terrain-challenged environment. They are evaluating
display sizes, fields of view and computer graphic options to
help determine which configurations will be most effective in
preventing accidents. The system includes visual cues that
will give pilots precision navigation guidance and help them
avoid obstacles.

Limited visibility is one of the greatest factors in most
fatal aircraft accidents, according to Michael Lewis,
director of the NASA Aviation Safety Program, headquartered
at Langley. “With Global Positioning Satellite signals,
pilots now can know exactly where they are,” said Lewis. “Add
super-accurate terrain databases and graphical displays, and
we can draw three-dimensional moving scenes that will show
pilots exactly what’s outside. The type of accidents that
happen in poor visibility just don’t happen when pilots can
see the terrain hazards ahead.”

The NASA Aviation Safety Program envisions a system that will
use new and existing technologies to incorporate data into
displays in aircraft cockpits. The displays will show
terrain, ground obstacles, air traffic, landing and approach
patterns, runway surfaces and other relevant data to the
flight crew.

The NASA Aviation Safety Program is a partnership with the
FAA, the Department of Defense, aircraft manufacturers,
airlines and universities. This partnership supports a
national goal of reducing the fatal aircraft accident rate by
80 percent in 10 years.

Researchers at four NASA field installations are working with
the FAA and industry to develop advanced, affordable
technologies to make flying safer: Langley; NASA Ames
Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; NASA Dryden Flight
Research Center, Edwards, Calif.; and NASA Glenn Research
Center, Cleveland.

Because of advances made the last 40 years, commercial
airliners are the safest of all major modes of
transportation. But with an accident rate that has remained
relatively constant in the last decade, and air traffic
expected to go up significantly over the next 20 years, the
U.S. government wants to prevent a projected rise in the
number of aircraft accidents.

More information on the NASA Aviation Safety Program is
available on the Internet at:

http://avsp.larc.nasa.gov

SpaceRef staff editor.