Pulling back the curtain on touchscreen avionics

Winter in the U.S. Midwest often involves plenty of time indoors. My family tends to spend a fair amount of that time watching movies, and one of our recent viewings was, “The Wizard of Oz,” which got me thinking about how the final scene can be analogous to many of us in the aviation industry.

I’ll spare you a full synopsis, but for those who have seen the movie, who can forget the famous line — “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Technology feels a lot like that today. We all wonder, what’s really going on behind the scenes?  Just like they did in this classic movie, I’d like to pull back the curtain and show you what touchscreen avionics are all about.

Touch technology

ATM withdraw

There are actually a few different types of technologies when it comes to touchscreen. For the sake of comparison, let’s consider touchscreen interactions on an ATM machine at your local bank. If it’s like the one I use, you can touch the screen to select “Withdrawal,” “Checking,” and so on, but you are only able to interface with the system by touching predetermined locations on the screen. In effect, these are “virtual” buttons; not very different than having actual, physical buttons along each side of the screen.

In another category, let’s consider the user interface of modern smartphones and tablets. You can drag, drop, and swipe left and right. You’re able to interact with each object, regardless of location on the screen — moving it, starting a process, etc., all via a light touch. The entirety of the screen is useable and, literally, at your fingertips.

Into which category would the “touchscreen” interaction of Pro Line Fusion® fall?

First, let’s review some of the features of the avionics system’s touchscreen interface.

Resistive vs. capacitive touch
The Pro Line Fusion touchscreen uses a resistive surface, rather than capacitive.  This means that, though the interaction may be similar to today’s personal devices, the technology is different. The Pro Line Fusion system uses a resistive surface, which is when the screen senses pressure, not the electrical properties of the human body. It also means that the screen will sense only intentional touches, something that becomes important when you’re bumping around in flight. In contrast, the capacitive technology would require a pilot to touch the screen with bare skin (or a special glove with capacitive fingertips), and the screen would respond to any light touch — intentional or not.  

PFD and MFD interaction
The Pro Line Fusion touchscreen interaction is possible on all three 14-inch displays. Both Primary Flight Displays (PFD) and the Multi-Function Displays (MFD) respond to touchscreen commands.  When you consider that all three displays are also fully configurable (i.e., you can split the displays to show multiple items), you can conceivably have different PFD configurations for arrival and approach. For example, a pilot may want synthetic vision on the attitude indicator with the destination airport indicated by the airport dome, and a moving map or chart on the right of the PFD.

Relevant menus
The touchscreen interaction with the moving map is my favorite. If you see something — an airport, navaid, for example — touch it, and a menu appropriate to that object will appear.  If, for example, you see weather ahead and you want to reroute, it’s simple to touch the aircraft “Reroute”, touch the screen to create user-defined waypoints around the weather, and then touch “Exec”, and the Flight Management System (FMS) integrates the new route into the flight plan. No smoke and mirrors here, just a simple, direct way to fly.

If you’ve had the opportunity to interact with the Pro Line Fusion touchscreen via a demo unit on a trade show floor or in a Pro Line Fusion-equipped King Air, you have undoubtedly seen for yourself how closely the user interface resembles that of a modern personal device.  We’re only scratching the surface of the touchscreen capability of this avionics suite by pulling back the curtain on just a few of its features here. I hope you’re beginning to see that it’s more than a collection of “virtual” buttons, but a true touchscreen interaction.

When you pull back the curtain on touchscreen avionics, you may not find a wizard, but the true innovative mind of an engineer can be just as magical.

Read more about author Ben Gambrell.

Cleared for engine start?

“You are ‘go’ for main engines start, 7, 6 – engine start – 3, 2, 1 …” You know where this is going.  My family had the fortune to be personally acquainted with the family of Col. Steven Nagel, and we were lucky enough to see and feel the STS-51G launch in June 1985 up close.  For those who have experienced a launch, you understand what I mean by being able to “feel” it. Although I’ve had the privilege to see other shuttle launches before its retirement – even with 30 years having passed – I’ll never forget that first launch.

IMG_1327Just this past fall, I added another event to my list of personal aviation firsts.  I rode along on my first King Air flight, and by no coincidence, it was equipped with Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line Fusion® avionics. This was a memorable first because I was part of the engineering team that originally put Pro Line Fusion on the Gulfstream G280 and Bombardier Global 5000, and seeing it firsthand in action on the King Air was extremely gratifying.  As an engineer, I had spent a lot of time working with different pilots to help define what would become Pro Line Fusion and this was the first time I saw it flying with my own eyes.  

During the trip, which took place in Europe, we met with several operators and discussed their thoughts on how the aircraft are used, howthe new avionics system can change their way of operating the aircraft, and the particular needs of operators.  It was nice to see the appreciation for the talented people working at Rockwell Collins and all the great thinking that has gone into the Pro Line Fusion design.

 In theIMG_1317 many years that Rockwell Collins has been supplying equipment to the King Air family, a lot has changed. There is no doubt that our participation in the various space programs has helped shape this evolution of technology and operation leading into the avionics now found in today’s cockpits. We are all doing what we can in many different ways to ensure everyone continues to be “go for engine start” with the latest technology available.

I look forward to future aviation and space achievements during my lifetime that will continue advancing humankind the way they have throughout our history. Pro Line Fusion is just another small step for… ah nevermind.  

Read more about author Aaron Child.