Boeing Frontiers
August 2003
Volume 02, Issue 04
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Tech Talk

EVS gives pilots optical edge


flight deck of a Boeing 767-400ERThe tired phrase "it was a dark and stormy night" makes creative writing teachers cringe. It also makes pilots cringe, because since the dawn of manned flight they have had to battle such conditions in real life during low-visibility takeoffs, approaches and landings.

These problems can be compounded with today's military operations calling for low-level sorties, parachute drops and landing on unimproved runways in areas hostile from both a military and terrain point of view.

Despite advances in avionics and night-vision devices, pilots often still rely on their eyes during critical phases of flight when visibility may be low or nonexistent. The Enhanced Vision System may change that.

The Boeing Phantom Works Advanced Airlift and Tankers group in Long Beach, Calif., recently was awarded a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory contract to further develop Enhanced Vision System technologies.

The EVS will improve pilots' situational awareness for low-level flights during nighttime and/or poor weather conditions. The Boeing EVS approach expands the pilot's visual capability beyond the current aircraft windows (even giving them the capability to "see through" the aircraft skin and instrument panel) and increases safety during low visibility.

Jeff J. Güell, the EVS program manager, said the AFRL contract would allow Boeing to further expand research already done and support future military programs with advanced vision systems.

"This system offers the best possible image to the pilots at all times, regardless of the outside environment," Güell said. "These technologies are state-of-the-art today, but we expect them to become a common part of the flight deck of the future."

How it works

A pilot using the Enhanced Vision System would have a view even Superman might envy. Rain, fog, clouds, darkness and other visibility problems would disappear. The system would even make the cockpit "invisible" to the pilot, giving him an unfettered view of the skies and terrain below.

EVS makes all this happen by tying in a system of sensors and cameras on the outside of the aircraft with a terrain database, specialized software and a computer processor, essentially stitching the images and data to form one integrated picture.

The pilot even has several viewing options—either through a helmet-mounted display, a head up display projected on a transparent screen between the pilot's eyes and the cockpit windows, or on liquid crystal display monitors in the cockpit panel.

EVS improves the pilot's visual capability and situational awareness beyond the limits of current aircraft windows, reduces the potential for controlled flight into terrain, and ultimately facilitates landing in reduced-visibility conditions.

EVS fuses data from several sources for helmet-mounted, head-up and head-down displays. The system uses software to combine information from a terrain database (which together with symbology generates a synthetic scene, known as a Synthetic Vision System), Global Positioning System information and images from low-light sensors, forward-looking infrared and radar sensors aboard the aircraft.

The combination EVS/SVS takes the multiple sources of information and puts them together in a seamless display to the pilot. The real time results provide an external image on a helmet or headset display corresponding to the pilot's field of view in an exact replication of the terrain and outside environment.

For military missions, EVS improves situational awareness for low-level and low-visibility flight operations in austere environments, in bad weather/visibility conditions and where aircraft electronic emissions are not desired. The Boeing EVS system also enables pilots to have real-time updates on moving map displays of their position in relation to other aircraft, weather and potential threats.

Boeing has done extensive research in enhanced and synthetic vision system technologies, and as a prime integrator of aircraft systems the company has been seeking components from the best suppliers to produce an EVS/SVS system.

Currently, BAE Systems and Nav3D are the prime subcontractors and partners with Boeing on this program. BAE Systems provides advanced avionics such as a daylight-readable high-resolution head-up display, helmet-mounted devices, optical tracker technologies and low-light-level-sensor technologies. Nav3D is providing all the synthetic vision software systems, including pathway symbology, which indicates the "road" the pilot or operator should follow for safe navigation, approach and landing.

Boeing plans to integrate and flight test the EVS on board a C-17 aircraft to demonstrate the applicability of the system. The flight tests will demonstrate these technologies in poor visibility, and the results will be used to define military and commercial applications.


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