Going Direct: Here’s The Future Of Your Airplane’s Cockpit

Are you ready for the next big thing, a new way to see the aviation data we all rely on to fly safely and surely? You probably should be, because it’s coming.

At Sun ‘n Fun Seattle Avionics’ Steve Podradchik showed me the coolest gadget I’ve seen in years. An iPhone. Okay, the iPhone wasn’t the big thing; it was the app, called FlyQ InSight, that pilots can use on their iPhone or iPad to point out the window and see where the airports are. Augmented reality is hot right now, though it’s not brand new. But as demonstrated by Seattle Avionics, it has the potential to greatly enhance our piloting experience by putting together the two things we want to know: what’s outside the plane (not inside it, on the panel) and where the stuff out there is. I say “stuff” because, while FlyQ InSight shows where airports are now, it won’t be long before other features are available, if not on FlyQ InSight then on some device.

Here’s a scenario. Imagine you’re flying into an unfamiliar area in hazy but VMC conditions and the en route controller hands you off to the approach controller, who after a while asks you to report the “airport in sight.” The fact is, it can be hard to report the field in sight when you can’t figure out where it is. With FlyQ InSight, the idea is, just hold your device up to look out ahead and the app shows you information superimposed on the camera view of the outside world just where the airport is. For the record, Seattle Avionics says it shows “approximately” where the airport is.

A nice trick, but how is it revolutionary? Here’s how. In a couple of important ways moving maps were a revolutionary advance over paper maps. For starters, the map, as promised, moved with you as you flew along. And it even showed you your little airplane icon on the screen. And you could zoom in, and with data-driven maps, you’d see more data as you took a closer look or less as you stepped back for the big picture.

But in another way moving maps are very much old technology, in that they are a representation of the outside reality. They are not the same as the outside reality. Augmented reality puts the user, for us, the pilot, into direct contact with the outside world and superimposes data on that real-world view. This is actually nothing new in aviation; the head-up display (HuD) is augmented reality. As you fly the approach with a HuD, and I’ve had the opportunity to fly a number of larger business jets with this technology, you see the outside world (enhance with sensors that see through smoke and clouds and fog) to the airport below, which is where you’re going. The map of an airport is not where you’re going, but merely a representation of that place you’re going to.

For all practical purposes, FlyQ InSight does the same thing as a million-dollar HuD does in that it blends the outside world with a world of data we have about that outside world. In the case of a HuD, that means, in addition to the outside world, you see the flight director so you can make your way down the glideslope. You also get to see the your airspeed, VSI, altitude and more, all without moving your head away from the task at hand, flying a perfect approach.

With FlyQ InSight, the goals are very modest, but the potential for this technology is anything but. It’s hard not to imagine an aviation future in which all of the data we rely on to fly safely is right there before our eyes, heads up, not down.

What other kinds of data might we expect to see soon? Well, it would be great to be able to see where other airplanes are, and with ADS-B, that information will soon be readily available for just about every plane all the time. Farther down the tech road we might see weather data as well…perhaps telling us what the visibility is like at the airport down yonder, or whether that cloud up ahead is hiding strong turbulence.

The possibilities are endless, but one thing is clear, the future is heads up.

If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

2 thoughts on “Going Direct: Here’s The Future Of Your Airplane’s Cockpit

  1. Perhaps I-Pads and similar devices should be equipped with infrared imaging devices, as infrared cuts through fog better than visible light.

  2. The tech and the safety it can provide is advancing faster than the FAA. I’m so thankful for tablets that the FAA can’t really regulate, because if they could, this technology would never make it’s way into the cockpit for another 50 years. I’m always astonished at just how behind the times GA aircraft are compared the advancements we have made in the automotive world (and yes, I realize it’s different due to volume of cars sold vs aircraft, the liability etc.)

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