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From the Flight Deck: The Next Generation of HUD Technology

May 20, 2021

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Over the last 20+ years I’ve worked as a flight test pilot and systems engineer, we’ve seen SBAS GPS come online and provide LPV precision approach capability to 6,000+ runways, and we’ve seen SVS and now domestic CPDLC expand across the globe. ADS-B Out just became a regulatory requirement, and ADS-B In applications continue to grow in attractiveness and cost benefit.

The new major development is the next generation of sensors with the ability to augment natural vision. The application has been around for some time, but as technology develops and the capability of those systems continues to grow, new applications to advance aviation safety and operational capabilities are being pursued. Here at UA, we have our ClearVision™ Enhanced Flight Vision System (EFVS) solution featuring enhanced vision (EVS), SVS, and a combination of both integrated onto a single display called a Combined Vision System (CVS).

Head-Up, Eyes Out

Did you know that Head-Up Display (HUD) systems have roots dating back to World War II, with the original application being a fighter optical sight called a reflector sight? It eliminated parallax sighting issues and represented the first head-up gun sight. Its origins in civil aviation date back to the 1970s, and HUD Cat IIIA certification was first accomplished with a fixed overhead combiner HUD more than 30 years ago.  

UA now offers the next generation of HUD devices, which combine small display technologies with EFVS camera inputs and SVS elements onto the display. Which leads me to the SkyLens™ display, a head-wearable device with VHUD / SVS / EFVS capabilities. This impressive technology provides flight guidance, system status and alerting, and unparalleled enhanced natural vision, allowing pilots to fly safer and easier, while operating head-up. 

Now, I know I’m not the only pilot who has flown an instrument approach into an unfamiliar airport during the night and even though it’s VFR weather. Which is why everyone should find these augmented visual systems so exciting. Regardless of weather, it’s no longer necessary to fly into a dark abyss at night with no visual advantage, because unseen terrain or obstacles are just as substantial a threat as one that’s obscured by weather. With all due respect to current generation TAWS systems, which only issue an alert and provides no guidance for an escape maneuver, the next generation of systems needs to assist in providing that visual feedback to allow the crew to make the correct evasive maneuver. 

Fortunately with a head worn device, we have the ability to expand viewing angles (area of regard) far beyond the traditional limited field of view of a HUD, and we have the ability to display significantly more terrain data, either SVS, EVS, or CVS. As the pilot turns his head left or right, the overall level of situational awareness grows rapidly in limited viewing range environments. This technology eliminates estimating the location of terrain and obstacles, and significantly improves flight safety.

Head-Wearable Display Advantages

Head-Wearable Displays (HWD) like the SkyLens also have the advantage of being easily installed as they do not require any large overhead combiners, and the unit can be removed and replaced in a matter of minutes for maintenance. Ease of use is a basic design element with SkyLens, and adjustments to the wearable unit can be accomplished quickly with proper training. With all the basic data and guidance in the VHUD provided by SkyLens, it is simple for the flight crew to use the VHUD display combined with the EVS camera data and SVS data to have a fully integrated single source display for all flight information necessary to operate the aircraft.

SkyLens also forms the basis of the new generation of display systems that provide a cost effective way of providing a HUD capability in an airplane, either retrofit or forward fit, as well as the capability of flying to reduced minimums in lower than standard Cat I weather on almost any runway. Continued flight test provides us with visual advantage results allowing for 50% reduction in RVR in many cases, virtually eliminating the need or expense of certifying and maintaining a Cat II or Cat III system, not to mention the limited availability of those types of approaches around the world. Cat I enhanced approaches are commonplace and readily available to operators.

It’s a great time to be in aviation with all these developing technologies, and at UA we’re dedicated to the best customer experience with world class products and innovation. We hope to tell you more about it in our future installments of this series as we progress on our projects and ultimate STC certification in the near future, as installations are rolled out and our customers gain the competitive edge in operating capabilities using cutting edge Enhanced Flight Vision Systems.



Paul DamschenPaul Damschen is a Senior Flight Test Pilot and FAA Designated Engineering Representative (DER) Systems and Equipment for UA. He has been project manager of several successful designs with key technologies supporting the FAA's NextGen Air Traffic Control Systems. Paul is an Airline Transport Pilot, Type Rated in A320 series, B737, B757, B767, C650, and B300 aircraft. In 2007, Paul was the co-recipient of the Robert J. Collier Trophy – Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) Team. Paul is also a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.


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