Pilot Journal
Monday, September 1, 2008

Synthetic Vision

Flying by visual reference—regardless of the visibility

synthetic visionOver the past decade, new technology that promises to make instrument flying almost as easy as (and arguably even safer than) flying visually has been introduced into the general aviation (GA) fleet. Synthetic vision takes the idea of an artificial horizon and expands it to an artificial view of the outside world, allowing pilots to fly by visual reference even in the clouds.
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synthetic vision
Avidyne’s synthetic vision upgrade for the Entegra glass panel should offer features comparable to other synthetic vision systems.
Chelton just introduced upgraded software that provides support for the FAA’s NextGen Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and WSI satellite weather. The software also features improved autopilot support, an additional tape-style vertical indicator on the right of the PFD (which can display deviation from an ILS glideslope or GPS-derived vertical guidance), vertical speed bugs, V-speeds, Mach indicators for jet aircraft, a navigation log on the MFD and easier waypoint insertion into existing flight plans. The $2,000 upgrade covers software and, if necessary, a hardware upgrade to the display.

In addition to two (or more) integrated display units, a typical FlightLogic system has an integrated GPS connected to one or two conventional NAV/COM units. Most can be automatically tuned by Chelton’s flight-management system (FMS); Garmin’s GNS 430 and 530 are exceptions. Options include a physical slip/skid ball instead of (or in addition to) the digital slip/skid indicator typical on other PFDs. Pricing for a two-display FlightLogic system begins at $52,000, plus dealer mark-up and installation, which Schmidt says can require up to 200 shop hours: “A huge factor is whether you already have the system opened up for an interior change, panel replacement, etc.” The complexity (and time in the shop) also depends on what kind of autopilot the user has or adds to the airplane.

Overall, though, Schmidt (a pilot himself) says, “FlightLogic is a real pleasure to fly! I’ve heard numerous times from ex-airline pilots who say they feel comfortable flying IFR with these systems, but wouldn’t be comfortable with steam gauges, especially on a long flight.” Visit www.cheltonflightsystems.com.

synthetic vision
Chelton’s FlightLogic provides a synthetic view of terrain, obstacles and traffic, and also has HITS guidance.
Honeywell Bendix/King VistaNav
Honeywell Bendix/King’s first synthetic vision product aimed at GA pilots is quite different from competing systems. VistaNav, which Honeywell acquired from Mercury Computer Systems earlier this year, operates on a PC running Microsoft Windows XP and configured as an electronic flight bag (EFB); its functions include GPS/WAAS, moving-map navigation, satellite-based weather, terrain awareness and digital approach plates. In addition to the display hardware, VistaNav requires input from a proprietary inertial navigation unit (INU), a WAAS-enabled GPS and, optionally, an XM Satellite Weather receiver and Zaon XRX portable traffic detector. Display options include both Class I and Class II EFBs (the latter is certified for use in commercial aircraft). VistaNav’s software offers the ability to see the aircraft position on airport diagrams, “touch and drag” map and chart panning, and long-range weather zoom, along with HITS guidance for both nonprecision and precision approaches.

Hosted on a portable device, VistaNav can’t be TSO’d for primary navigation in IFR conditions—so, unlike the other systems covered here, it can’t replace conventional instruments. But, just as with a conventional yoke-mount GPS, it’s legal to use VistaNav for “situational awareness” on Part 91 flights, provided that you also tune the built-in instrumentation that’s appropriate for the approach being flown.

VistaNav technology may appear in other Bendix/King avionics. Chad Cundiff, Honeywell’s vice president for crew interface products, says, “We’re very interested in synthetic vision technology, and that’s what drove us to license VistaNav. Right now, we’re figuring out how it fits into our road map. They did interesting things in synthetic vision and image fusion. Honeywell already offers high-end synthetic vision products in the Primus Epic line for business aircraft. We expect to add a synthetic vision feature to our KFD 840 PFD at some point. Stay tuned!”

Meanwhile, the portable VistaNav products are available; prices start at $4,399 for Class I systems and $5,999 for Class II systems. For more information, visit www.vistanav.com.


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