Seeing what you can't

NASA is known for its high-tech accomplishments in space, but agency researchers

in Virginia hope to improve the safety of flight at lower altitudes, too.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., hopes its Synthetic

Vision project will revolutionize cockpit displays by providing pilots with

a digital picture of the scene outside their aircraft, regardless of the

weather conditions. This information could help pilots avoid collisions

with terrain that might otherwise be obscured by storms or clouds.

Representatives of NASA's Aviation Safety Program have attended several

Federal Aviation Administration events, including the Capstone open house

in Anchorage, Alaska, and a June runway safety summit in Washington, D.C.,

to promote Synthetic Vision as a safety feature for all classes of aircraft.

NASA also is proposing that its Weather Information Communications and

electronic pilot reporting system for meteorological data be used to piggyback

on the FAA's Capstone program.

"We'll approach those relatively carefully," said Pat Poe, FAA regional

administrator for the Alaska region.

NASA's Synthetic Vision display concepts will vary depending on whether

the aircraft is commercial transport, general aviation or rotorcraft, said

Russell Parrish, chief scientist for the Synthetic Vision Systems Project

at NASA. Commercial aircraft will need tools that monitor whether the data

in the terrain database is accurate. General aviation aircraft will need

fewer features.

But the focus of Synthetic Vision will be on developing a digital moving

map database useful on any aircraft, Parrish said. NASA kicked off a cooperative

agreement Aug. 30 with Jeppesen Sanderson Inc. — which is being acquired

by Boeing Co. — to develop the requirements and processes for building

a worldwide terrain database, he said.

NASA also is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and the FAA to define the government's

role in designing the infrastructure for Synthetic Vision.

Synthetic Vision, a $100 million, five-year project, relies on Global

Positioning System receivers that would provide information about an aircraft's

location and the location of other aircraft in the vicinity, as well as

a graphics computer, a stored database, computer displays and software.

The system would use several different sensors, including a forward-looking

image sensor and weather radar, to enhance information already in the database,

Parrish said.

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