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New system aids in foul-weather landings

By Laurence Frost, AP Business Writer | July 29, 2006

FARNBOROUGH, England --Nail-biting blind landings in foul weather may soon be a lot less perilous, thanks to a new corporate jet equipment that could also find its way into airliner cockpits.

The technology, known as Synthetic Vision Systems, displays a computer-generated view of the terrain ahead -- even in heavy fog or clouds, when the ground can be invisible to other advanced "vision" equipment such as infrared sensors.

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. became the first executive plane maker to announce plans to offer an SVS aboard its jets. The deal was announced at last week's Farnborough Airshow.

Once certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, SVS will result in "more accurate tactical flight decisions by pilots and ultimately increased safety," Gulfstream said.

The Honeywell International Inc. equipment chosen by Gulfstream is a highly detailed, three-dimensional Global Positioning System satellite navigation screen for planes.

Instead of the traditional blue-over-brown artificial horizon, a pilot using the new screen sees an ever-changing virtual view from the cockpit, overlaid with the familiar altitude, attitude, speed and heading indicators. Later, Honeywell says it may offer similar technology that projects the imagery onto the inside of the cockpit window. [Editor's Note: I know where they can get that...]

If the pilot is on course to collide with a mountainside, the rocky slope appears in bright red on the display, followed by an audible alarm as the aircraft gets closer. Honeywell's display also can show warnings from other collision-avoidance systems such as those in use at major airports.

It also allows pilots to fly much more accurately during low-visibility landings at smaller airports without state-of-the-art instrument landing systems, said David Learmount, operations and safety editor with Flight International magazine.

"It's absolutely brilliant for business jets," Learmount said. "The whole idea of a business jet is to be able to fly safely to any airfield you like, including small regional airports."

Rockwell Collins Inc., another U.S. avionics maker, is developing its own SVS displays and expects demand from airlines and from another of its regular customers -- the U.S. Air Force.

"We also see military applications," company spokesman Nancy Welsh said. "Imagine you're flying in a brownout (thick dust cloud) in Iraq. Synthetic vision might be quite useful."

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