Since the time the Wright brothers touched the sky, electronics has been slow to pass through aircrafts. Electronics took a back seat in the advancement of aviation compared to mechanical and smooth technologies.
No doubt, radio-communication and navigation systems have for years been electronics-based, but many air- craft systems, whether gauges or flight controls, are mechanical or hydraulic, rather than electronic. Well, after cars, its now the turn of the aircrafts to go electronic. Electronics is becoming the life of aviation from navigation to engine and flight control with engineers embedding sensors in the fabric of the modern plane. The newest avionic systems feature PC-like displays replacing both paper charts and mechanical gauges.
And its not only the pilots but the passengers also for whom flying will become fun. On a growing number of international flights, high-tech entertainment systems will make the journey almost as enjoyable as the destination.
Comfort and entertainment
Noise-cancellation headphones, audio and video on demand, DVD, satellite TV and Internet access are making the skies a lot more comfortable. As carriers compete for passengers business, in-flight entertainment is getting better both in quality and variety.
Several of USAs largest airlines are planning for business and first-class seats that cost $30,000 to $100,000 a piece. These arent ordinary seats. Theyre electrified, motorised and highly accessorised testaments to engineering skill. Theyre also symbols of consumers endless desire for comfort and status and their willingness to pay for it.
The seats will keep you entertained with games, music and movies, and, in the near future connected with home and the office via the Internet. Some will massage your back. With some models, four seats can revolve into place for a meeting.
When its time for a nap, these seats grow wider and lay back 176 degrees, four degrees short of completely flat, to compensate for the slight nose-up flying attitude of most commercial jets. Some have cushions that flip over to become a proper mattress. A few come with partitions affording privacy.
Shift away from land-based navigation
In an era in which global positioning system (GPS) features in cars and in which no military efforts could succeed without GPS, its time to move away from land-based navigation systems. And GPS is beginning to play a bigger role in aviation.
GPS can deliver benefits ranging from more efficient use of runways to improved fuel economy. Take, for instance, the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) scheme, which airway agencies world- wide are specifying. RNP pertains to the accuracy with which pilots and air controllers can ascertain a planes location.
Older navigation systems work fairly well over land. But over the vast expanse of, say, the Pacific Ocean, where there are no navigation beacons, neither a pilot nor an air-traffic controller can know the precise location of a plane. So, the commercial-traffic highways many miles wide and thousands of feet high - were inefficient. The wasted airspace means that fewer planes can operate at the higher altitudes in which jets are most fuel- efficient.
GPS enables RNP highways to be as small as 9.6 km (6 miles) wide and 305 meters (1000 feet) high, and offer a 30-times more efficient use of air space over the Pacific.
Landings will be safer with GPS
The GPS landing system (GLS) can allow an autopilot to land an airliner within 3 meters (10 feet) of a runway centre line and within 30 meters (100 feet) of the target along the runway.
GLS uses a combination of GPS and land-based technologies. GPS offers 10m-location accuracy. And 10m accuracy works fine for cruise missiles, but an airliner trying to touch down within three meters of the centre line requires more precise position data. GLS instead uses a differential-correction scheme reminiscent of the selective-availability era that brings accuracy to one meter.Besides, GLS is cheaper and makes more efficient use of runways than the ILS.
ILS uses a separate ground-based system for each runway. A single slab of runway concrete actually comprises two runways in pilot or ILS parlance because you can land from either direction.
A single local area augmentation system (LAAS) costs approximately $500,000about the same as an ILS but can handle multiple runways. The LAAS is an extension to GPS that focuses its service on the airport area. It broadcasts its correction message via a very high-frequency (VHP) radio data link from a ground-based transmitter.
Plus, GLS allows more frequent landings. Imagine you have a plane landing and a plane on final approach. The instrument-flight rule (IFR) says that the two planes must be separated by 13 to 16 km (eight to ten miles). The fact that the landing plane blankets the ILS signal until that landing plane is off the active runway is in part the reason for the separation guidelines. GLS has no such problems and might support safe IFR landings with only 4.8 km (3 miles) of separation.
Flight info display in the cockpit
Electronics reduces the pilots workload and makes it safer to fly. In most aviation accidents, you can hear pilots on the black-box recordings asking what is going wrong. And, although systems such as area navigation offer great data, the data is useless unless the pilot can easily interpret and digest the info, especially when things go wrong. So avionic systems that display flight information in the cockpit are being devised.
You can see PC-like flat-panel displays in the cockpit of Airbus 340 or Boeing 777 airliners. Gamin, for instance, has developed the GIOOO family of flight decks for small planes. The so-called glass cockpit includes a primary-flight display (PFD) that replaces compasses, altimeters, climb indicators, air-speed indicators and the artificial horizon that shows the planes attitude relative to straight and level flight. The system also includes a multifunction display (MFD) that shows weather, navigation and terrain info. Both the PFD and the MFD support 1028-x 764-pixel resolution and wide viewing angles, and users can read them in sunlight.
Cutting through the fog
Boeing 737 airplanes equipped with the head-up display (HUD) flight deck system fly when others cannot. Some regulatory standards require a minimum of 182 meters of visibility before an airplane is allowed to take off. Airplanes with HUD can take off in visibility conditions as low as 91 meters.
HUD uses a transparent glass display positioned between the pilots eye and the flight deck window to show critical information such as airspeed, altitude, and attitude and flight path. During takeoffs and landings, an image of the runway is superimposed over the actual view out the window.
The technology can eliminate flight cancellations, diversions and delays caused by restricted visibility. It also provides an extra margin of safety by allowing a pilot to keep his eye on the road, rather than looking down at the instrument panels. The ability to present data in real-world framework makes it easier for pilots to take in information and fly the airplane.