Getting buried by complexity?

Today’s pilots have a lot to think about. Mandates, upgrades, maintenance, checks, keeping passengers happy, staying competitive, staying alert—there’s a lot. With today’s modern avionics systems, operators have increased flexibility to display more information than ever before. So, how does one keep track of all this information without getting buried in complexity?

This is answered by a philosophy that we have adopted in our latest flight decks and includes the following concepts:   

  • Consistently presented controls
  • One- or two-step access to the most frequented menus and functions
  • Shallow Menu Layers that can be accessed without stepping out of previously selected menus
  • Predefined flight deck format selections and layout based on flight phases.

The Direct To dialog box (menu) is an example of how Pro Line Fusion consistently presents controls. The Direct To control is selected directly from the Keyboard (MKP) or within the Flight Management System (FMS) format, and the pilot will always see the same Direct To dialog box. From here, there is no guesswork about how to make the required entries.

Direct To Dialog Box

Need to open a CharEEJ MKPt, FMS format, Checklists, Map Format or something else?  These are just a one-button-push away and will predictably appear in the same location every time. They are available from the keyboard. (Pro Line Fusion® with touchscreens offers a real QWERTY keyboard).

Once inside a given format, the menu depth is kept to a minimum.  Leaving one menu to go to another or leaving one format to go to another will not require “backing out” of the menu.  Just select the other menu of interest or format of interest.

Flight Planning and the FMS
The FMS page is laid out to help with the flight planning process. The latest versions of our Pro Line Fusion FMS software will step the pilots through the typical flight planning process with data entry fields advancing automatically as each step completes.  However, nothing will stop the pilot from leaving a menu at any time or following a different path to accomplish the data entry in a different order depending on how much is already known about the flight plan.

Memorized Flight Deck Display Layouts
The pilots can revert to known flight deck layouts and settings with two-button pushes.  All of the Pro Line Fusion flight decks are preconfigured with layouts that could be typical for operations in a given flight phase such as Taxi, Takeoff, or Cruise.

mem configHas the mechanic been poking around at the maintenance system to load databases while you have been finishing up pre-flight? Upon your return to the fligh
t deck you find that all the formats have been changed and the maintenance format is still displayed, but don’t fret, it’s as easy as “MEM”, “1”, and the displays are set back to the start arrangement.  And it didn’t cost you a lot of brain power. This can apply to a lot of situations, and there are even memorized configurations that you define for your favorite setups.

All functionality, consistently presented, even if there is a failure
Let’s face it, there are bad days when things just don’t go well. Even with the required reliability and redundancy needed for certified avionics systems, there can eventually be a failure. With Pro Line Fusion, a failure should not be a complex event for you as a pilot. Sensor failures are automatically sorted by the system with reversion to known good sensors for air data or attitude, with notification that there are failures. Red flags and quick-button pushing are less of an issue for you.  However, you still have the control to force reversion of sensors if you wish to do so. If a display fails, the other displays will automatically pick up the task at hand and present you with a predictable format. The Pro Line Fusion displays have enough surface area and configurability to help ensure that you don’t lose access to the data you need in generally the same layout that is found when the system is fully functional. There is no need to re-adjust your scan to an unfamiliar layout of a PFD, Engine Indication, or Map format.

So, whether it is the day-to-day operation of the system or dealing with system failures, there are tools available today to help you not get buried in complexity.

We’d like to hear your stories in the comments about situations where things could have been made simpler.

Read more about author Aaron Child.


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.

Catching the flying “bug”…literally

MeYou could say aviation is in my blood. After all, my grandfather started flying Aeronca Champs in the 1930s and my great uncle was a navigator on a B-29 bomber in World War II. Like many pilots, I fell in love with flying when I was very young, around five years old. I knew then that I wanted to be a pilot (much to my parent’s dismay, I later found out). I took lessons as a teen at local airports in New Jersey and ultimately became a flight instructor, airline pilot and corporate pilot.

Those that fly know the thrill of soaring through the air and the passion that drives us towards it. From the acceleration on takeoff, to the challenge of landing, every flight takes us away from the mundane and into the world of excitement and possibility. This passion is so strong that it pushes us to continue even after having some “less than pleasant” experiences. I remember one of those experiences quite vividly:

IMG_0026I was flying Metroliners for an airline that no longer exists that was based in south Florida. One night as it was getting dark,  I reached for a dimming knob on the instrument panel…. and to my surprise—and horror—as I went to turn the knob, it scurried away. Not believing my eyes, I attributed it to my lack of sleep the night before. Not so. I pushed the seat back to get a better view and realized that the WHOLE cockpit was “scurrying”—the plane was infested with cockroaches!

I looked over and yelled to the captain, “We’ve got cockroaches in this airplane!”

He responded very casually, “Yeah, nobody told you?”

No, they most certainly didn’t!  Needless to say, I spent the next few months covering my open soda cans sitting in the cup holder and putting all of my snacks in Ziploc bags to avoid any surprises in my food.

Imagine all the places they can hide….

Yet, cockroaches and all, I still feel that flying the Metroliner was one of the most fun flying jobs I’ve had. As my career progressed and I flew more advanced aircraft, I found myself becoming ever more fascinated with what really drove advanced airplanes – the avionics. This fascination grew and ultimately led me to Rockwell Collins.

The great thing about my job now is that I get to work with both pilots and the people that help make and design these truly advanced avionics. Through this experience, I’ve learned that the only real way to continuously improve our equipment is to get candid feedback from other pilots and maintenance personnel like yourselves. With this blog, I hope to start to open these conversations—so let’s get started!

What stories do you have that tested your passion for aviation?


Read more about author Mitch Bernstein.