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Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion

Posted 8 years 185 days ago ago by Admin





noun - the process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity.

In 1999, I was an EMS pilot flying a brand new Sikorsky S76C+. I truly felt privileged to have an all-glass cockpit, with the exception of the standby airspeed, altimeter, and attitude indicator dials. With EFIS displays showing my primary flight data, and multi-function displays (MFDs) showing aircraft performance data and a moving map display . . . well, I kind of felt we were on the “bleeding edge” of technology in helicopter aviation.

I will not lie; transitioning from traditional round flight instruments to all digital displays was not easy. Although I considered myself as someone who embraced technology, years of scanning habits were very hard to break. This was especially true when it came to my brain interpreting airspeed and altitude. Seeing the pointers on a round gage seemed more intuitive than reading a vertical tape and digital readout. My transition was becoming an on-the-job experiment in human factors and ergonomics in the cockpit. After several months, I realized that I was still relying on the standby instruments, and not looking much at the data on the EFIS display. No matter how hard I tried, when the workload was high, the standby instruments were my go-to location when scanning for primary flight information.

I decided that I needed to do something to force my adjustment to the new technology, otherwise I was just creating more work for myself. If used properly, technology is supposed to increase our situational awareness and decrease our workload in the cockpit. So what did I do? I bought round instrument covers attached by rubber suction cups and temporarily covered the standby instruments. This forced me to look at the EFIS display. Within a month I had re-programmed my scanning habits, and my brain gained the ability to interpret flight data quickly.

Fast forward to late 2010, when I bought my first iPad. It was purchased for personal use, but I remember thinking even back then, when will this touch-screen concept intersect paths with with my career in aviation. It didn’t take long. Useful aviation apps began to surface, and pilots began dragging their iPads into the cockpit. By late 2013, iPads were required in the jet and helicopter cockpits of the Fortune 200 corporate flight department for which I fly.

It was at that point that the writing (actually “display”) was on the wall; adaptation and evolution were occurring right before my retinas. New glass cockpits were flat screen, and tablets were in the cockpit. It was not a matter of if, but when the two platforms (cockpit instrumentation and touch-screen technology) would fuse and find there way into helicopters. Well, it’s here already!

Although Apple really brought the touch-screen concept mainstream, they were not the inventors of the resistive touch screen. American inventor Dr. G. Samuel Hurst developed resistive touch screens almost accidentally in the 1970s while studying atomic physics.

Not So “Good Vibrations”

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in helicopter touch-screen avionics has been the high-vibration environment created by the aircraft itself, along with light turbulence in flight. Most commonly, helicopters use a cursor with turning knobs to select display data, or they utilize soft keys along display edges to access functionality.

Rockwell Collins has developed the Pro Line Fusion Integrated Avionics Display specifically to offer mission-ready touch-screen avionics for civil helicopter operations. A first step in that direction, was when in 2012, AgustaWestland selected the Pro Line Fusion system for use in its AW609 tiltrotor aircraft. With modular options for two-, three-, or four-screen displays, virtually any size helicopter—from light singles to large twins—can be accommodated.

Rockwell Collins has solved the vibration problem with a combination of technologies. First is the advanced resistive touch-screen technology that requires slightly higher touch pressures than one might see in a smartphone or tablet. This reduces the chance of bumping the wrong piece of data with a finger, and also enables pilot’s use of gloves, which many missions require. The second technology is an ergonomic function which uses ruggedized grips on the top and sides of the screens in order to stabilize the hand being used to provide tactile inputs to the display. Should the pilot opt not to use touch-screen functionality, there is also an alternate cursor control and keypad input device that can be used, much like a mouse and pointer on a computer screen.

Apps, Widgets, and Windows

The overarching idea for the Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics system is to change how pilot’s view and interact with flight and performance data. In years past, how data was viewed was fixed. Furthermore, if there were options for changing the format of the data (for example, in a GPS) a labyrinth of menus would have to be drilled through to change something. Now, one simply touches the data they want to interact with. Whether adding an overlay, such as weather radar or synthetic vision with HTAWS, or changing where data is displayed, it can be done intuitively by touching.

The system includes both primary flight displays (PFDs) and MFDs. The PFD is the display that would be centered in front of the pilot positions and provides all primary flight instrumentation. It may be overlaid on top of synthetic vision and terrain in order to increase situational awareness. MFDs are typically placed in the center of the instrument panel as well as on the center console. On MFD-1 you might have a moving map display with weather and navigation overlays, while MFD-2 could be configured to a two-window view which might display PFD info, engine performance app, checklist app, an infrared widget, or a NAV/COM widget.

Tale of the Tape

The Pro Line Fusion intuitive layout is adaptable to all helicopter missions: EMS, offshore transport, and mountain and maritime search and rescue. It offers a variety of innovative technologies designed to reduce pilot workload and enhance situational awareness, including:

  • Large-format, high-resolution liquid crystal displays with advanced graphics and NVG compatibility

  • Touch-screen or point-and-click navigation

  • High-resolution synthetic vision systems with obstacle and terrain awareness on primary flight display, adaptable to overland and offshore operations

  • Interactive digital map with relative terrain awareness, airspace overlays, and dynamic charts

  • Fully integrated FMS with graphical flight planning and radio control via console-mounted MFD, replacing traditional keyboard-centric control display units

Looking back on my own experience, making the leap from round gauges to glass cockpit digital displays was a difficult one. Scanning and data interpretation were not intuitive at all. Look forward into the future, the technology culture has shifted significantly. Many of us have glass cockpits and all of us have been using mobile devices with apps and widgets for years. The timing could not be better for the fusion of these technologies. From a human factors standpoint, the transition to this type of cockpit with a touch-screen workflow will be an easy one, and I cannot wait for it to land in the cockpit of the next helicopter I fly.

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