The evolution has gone from visual cues outside the aircraft to in-cockpit digital displays with data-rich views of the environment – and innovators at Airbus are ready to improve this instrumentation once again.
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 indicator.
Fabrice Bousquet, an Airbus vision systems expert, said: “Every generation of PFD gave pilots a better version of what they already were used to. 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.
Alexis Frenot, the SVS and PF3D project leader, said: “We had to adapt the scales because they weren’t uniform across the display, which would have resulted in natural features like mountains being flattened. 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 shows them.”
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. Frenot added: “We know from customer focus groups that airlines and their pilots would like to have cockpits with this technology and that they value the added situational awareness it provides.”