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Contract Award Press Release

NASA Selects the Avionics Engineering Center for Synthetic Vision Research.

Michael Lewis, director of the Aviation Safety Program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, announced that six industry teams have been selected to create Synthetic Vision for aviation application. Virtual-reality display systems, slated for cockpit environment, will offer pilots an electronic picture of the world outside their windows, no matter the weather or time of day.

NASA has committed $5.2 million that will be matched by $5.5 million in industry funds to advance this project over the next 18 months. Twenty-seven proposals in four categories: commercial transports and business jets, general aviation aircraft, database development, and enabling technologies were submitted and evaluated for technical merit, cost and feasibility by NASA and researchers from the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense.

Among those selected for the first phase of this program was the Ohio University, Avionics Engineering Center, Athens, Ohio. The Center will provide support for the Enabling- Technologies phase of this project to design specific component technologies for Synthetic Vision. The three year, $1.7 million dollar project will culminate with the installation and testing of an experimental system on the NASA Langley Research Center’s Boeing 757 research aircraft.

The Avionics Engineering Center research covers the implementation of a real-time, flight- management-system based terrain-avoidance system that utilizes the digitized terrain elevation data (DTED) database, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and a radar altimeter.

Reducing the Controlled-Flight-Into-Terrain (CFIT) accident rate depends on an accurate terrain database. Digital maps derived from a terrain database often contain errors in terrain features as well as errors in placement. These errors require the aircraft to fly higher than desired to achieve acceptable flight safety. During the approach and landing phase of flight, an aircraft is required to fly at lower altitudes to achieve an acceptable percentage of completed approaches. The digital map data in the DTED database is not sufficiently reliable for low-level flight maneuvering without additional on-board sensors.

The integrity of the DTED can be increased to an acceptable level with GPS and a radar altimeter, however. The concept involves correlating the GPS position and terrain data using the radar altimeter. The flight crew of an aircraft that has deviated from the intended approach path can be alerted to a potential CFIT hazard. In addition, the proposed architecture can also detect an aircraft aligned for approach to an incorrect runway -- potential runway incursion incident. The flight crew, thus alerted, can prevent the aircraft from landing on the wrong runway which may have taxiing or departing aircraft traffic.

The development of these revolutionary cockpit displays will provide flight crews with a clear views of their surroundings in bad weather and darkness. This can greatly improve safety and could help prevent deadly aviation accidents. The Ohio University Program envisions a system that would use new and existing technologies to incorporate data into displays in aircraft cockpits showing hazardous terrain, air traffic, landing and approach patterns, runway surfaces, and other obstacles that could affect an aircraft’s flight.

Participation in this partnership supports the national goal announced by President Clinton to reduce the fatal aircraft accident rates by 80 percent in the next 10 years and by 90 percent over the next 25 years. With air traffic predicted to triple over the next 20 years, the development of this program will greatly aid in the reduction of the number of aircraft accidents in the future.

Avionics Engineering Center
Russ College of Engineering and Technology
131 McFarland Avionics Building
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701
Tel: (740) 593-1515

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