Cockpit technology is a critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of a private jet.
The more advanced and reliable the technology, the safer the flight. Advanced technology provides pilots with more information, all while reducing the overall pilot workload. The result is that pilots are able to manage information better and be more focused in the cockpit. All of this results in a safer operation of flight.
Moreover, the more advanced the technology, for example, flight controls and autopilot technology, the smoother the flight. As a result, it will be more comfortable for the passengers in the back.
However, this technology is often overlooked by passengers and customers.
- In the Beginning
- Glass Cockpit
- Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)
- Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC)
- Synthetic Vision System (SVS)
- Enhanced Vision System (EVS)
- Cockpit Moving Map Display
- Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)
- SwiftBroadBand (SB-B)
In the Beginning
In the early days of powered flights pilots relied on their surroundings for the majority of information.
However, this soon changed when computers became small enough to be used on aircraft in the second half of the 20th century.
Until the 1970s aircraft cockpits were crammed with indicators, instruments, and electromechanical controls.
The complicated dials on the controllers were designed for a three-man crew, consisting of two pilots and one engineer. A typical aircraft of the time had over 100 instruments and controls, each with its own set of bars, needles, and symbols. All of these displays required a lot of room and the pilots’ full attention.
The development of display devices capable of processing flight data and raw information provided by aircraft systems into easy-to-understand images resulted from research aimed at finding a solution to this problem.
This development was only possible because basic changes in the way information was processed by onboard systems. Earlier instruments, based on analog information, provided indications that were directly linked to physical phenomena like air pressure, airspeed, or position of the gyroscope.
On the other hand, digital information is created when a physical measurement is converted into binary code using an analog-digital converter.
The digitization of the physical data required for flight control and navigation resulted in a significant transformation in aircraft cockpits. Data could be easily converted from analog to digital format, processed by computers, and displayed on screens in the cockpit thanks to advancements in electronics and computer technology.
Fly-by-wire technology was first put into operation by NASA in the 1970s, with it was first used in fighter aircraft. It was a direct spin-off from the space program that was used to maneuver the Apollo Lunar Module.
By introducing digital fly-by-wire technology to civil aircraft, the Airbus A320 revolutionized commercial aviation. It established new safety and efficiency benchmarks. Since its introduction in 1988, every new airliner has incorporated fly-by-wire technology.
However, fly-by-wire technology was not quite so quick to make its way to business jets.
In many cases, private jets are the first to introduce new technology to a commercial market. Typically far quicker than commercial aircraft.
- Flight-Envelope Protection software assists in the automatic stabilisation of the aircraft and the avoidance of unsafe actions.
- Reduced fatigue loads and increased passenger comfort due to turbulence suppression.
- An optimised trim setting reduces drag.
- Auto-pilot and other automatic flight control systems are easier to work with.
- Reduction in maintenance costs.
- Costs of pilot training for airlines are being reduced (flight handling becomes very similar in a whole aircraft family).The pilots’ workload can be reduced.
- Fly-by-wire control systems also improve flight economy because they eliminate the need for many mechanical and heavy flight-control mechanisms and wires, with the exception of hydraulic systems, which take up less space, are less complex, and are more reliable.
A glass cockpit is a cockpit where flight, engine, and aircraft data is shown on electronic displays rather than separate gauges for each instrument.
A set of up to six computer monitors can replace hundreds of switches and gauges, reducing the task of the flight crew.
One of the critical benefits of a glass cockpit is that the values are easier to read. Data is far clearer than a needle while also producing exact numbers.
This allows pilots to interpret their speed, altitude, and position more quickly.
The second benefit of a glass cockpit is space. One display can show potentially hundreds of parameters, all while taking up less space than if each metric had its own indicator.
In many cases, there are parameters that need to be infrequently checked. Therefore, these parameters can be placed within menus, rather than having to have a permanent display that is seldom used.
Think of it as similar to when physical keyboards were removed from phones. They are not used all the time and when they aren’t they take up an unnecessary amount of space.
Moreover, a glass cockpit allows for better data visualization. For example, glass displays allow for better weather and terrain information.
While electronic flight displays are considered more reliable than analog displays due to the lack of moving parts, they are vulnerable to electrical system failures and software glitches. Therefore, in some devices, analog displays are on standby in case electronic displays fail.
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is a system in which the electronic equipment onboard an aircraft broadcasts the exact location of the aircraft. This is achieved through a digital data link. The data can be used by other aircraft and air traffic control to see the aircraft’s position and altitude on display screens without the need for radar.
In the words of the FAA, “ADS-B is transforming all segments of aviation.”
An aircraft equipped with ADS-B uses GPS to determine its position. A transmitter then broadcasts that position, along with identity, altitude, velocity, and other data, at regular intervals. The broadcasts are received by the ADS-B ground stations, which then send the information to air traffic control for precise tracking of aircraft.
The acronym stands for:
Automatic – No pilot input is required.
Dependent – Relies on the aircraft’s navigation system to provide accurate position and velocity data.
Surveillance – Provides information such as aircraft position, altitude, velocity, and other surveillance data.
Broadcast– Information is broadcast continuously for monitoring by appropriately equipped ground stations or aircraft.
As of January 1, 2020, all aircraft that operate within Class A airspace in the United States must have ADS-B equipped.
For reference, Class A airspace in the FAA is defined as being “generally the airspace from 18,000 feet mean sea level (MSL) up to and including flight level (FL) 600, including the airspace overlying the waters within 12 nautical miles (NM) of the coast of the 48 contiguous states and Alaska.”
Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) is a two-way data link that allows controllers to send messages to an aircraft instead of using voice communications. The message is displayed on a visual display on the flight deck.
For the ATC service, the CPDLC application provides air-ground data communication. It supports a number of data link services (DLS) that allow for the exchange of communication management and clearance/information/request messages that are voice phraseology compatible with air traffic control procedures.
The controllers are provided with the capability to issue ATC clearances, radio frequency assignments, and various requests for information.
The pilots are provided with the capability to respond to messages, request or receive clearances, as well as missed clearances due to voice frequency congestion.
Therefore, pilot read-back errors are no longer a problem with this technology. The pilots can now confirm receipt of text-messaged clearances and instructions from controllers by pressing a button.
This information can then be input directly into the flight management system, which then follows the ATC instructions.
There is also the ability to exchange information that does not conform to defined formats. This is known as a “free text” capability.
- Reduced ATC frequency; increased sector capacities
- More pilot requests can be processed at the same time
- Reduced risk of miscommunication (for example, due to call sign confusion)
- As a result of the safer frequency changes, fewer communication events are lost.
Synthetic Vision System (SVS)
Synthetic Vision System (SVS) is an aircraft technology that combines three-dimensional data into intuitive displays to give flight crews better situational awareness.
SVS is expected to improve situational awareness regardless of the weather or time of day. Furthermore, the system reduces pilot workload in complex situations and operationally demanding phases of flight, such as on approach.
SVS combines a high-resolution display with databases of terrain and aeronautical information, obstacle data, data feeds from other planes, and GPS to show pilots where they are and what’s around them.
SVS creates a virtual representation of the real world, presenting information to the flight crew in an easy-to-understand and quick-to-assimilate format. The image displayed on the SVS display(s) includes a 3D representation of the external environment. Factors such as terrain, obstacles, weather, the approach path, runway, and aerodrome maneuvering areas, along with other traffic, are all presented.
The Synthetic Vision System was created in order to improve the situational awareness of aircrews, especially during the approach and landing phases of flight. They’re also great for increasing flight safety, especially when it comes to reducing the number of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) incidents.
According to Honeywell’s Ingram, SVS is now common in new business jets and is affordable both for new business turboprops and for retrofitting into used aircraft.
Enhanced Vision is a technology that uses data from aircraft sensors (such as near-infrared cameras and millimeter-wave radar) to provide vision in low-visibility situations.
For many years, military aircraft pilots have had access to night vision systems. Recently, business jets have added similar capabilities to their aircraft to improve pilot situational awareness in low-visibility situations, such as those caused by weather or haze, as well as nighttime flying.
Gulfstream Aerospace pioneered the first civil certification of an Enhanced Vision System (EVS) on an aircraft, using a Kollsman IR camera. It was first offered as an option on the Gulfstream V aircraft. However, when the Gulfstream G550 was introduced in 2003, it became standard equipment. This was soon followed by the Gulfstream G450 and Gulfstream G650.
Gulfstream has delivered more than 500 aircraft with a certified EVS in place as of 2009. EVS is now available on some Bombardier and Dassault business jet products, as well as some other aircraft Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). Boeing has started offering EVS on its Boeing Business Jets, and it is also available on the B787.
The benefit of EVS is that it improves safety in nearly all phases of flight, particularly during approach and landing in low visibility. In preparation for landing, a pilot on a stabilized approach can recognize the runway environment (lights, runway markings, etc.) earlier.
Obstacles such as terrain, structures, vehicles, and other aircraft on the runway that would otherwise be invisible are clearly visible on the infrared image.
The aim of the cockpit moving map display is to reduce runway incursions by improving pilot situational awareness.
Heads-up guidance display systems will be addressed in each phase. Each phase will require the continued development and certification of cockpit display equipment.
In addition, the establishment of standards, guidelines, and procedures for use of the equipment are divided into four stages.
Phase 1 focuses on the design and installation of cockpit moving map (airport) displays with GPS-enabled own-ship positioning.
Phase 2 includes display capabilities for data-linked traffic, both on the ground and in the air. This is achieved by using ADS-B and TIS-B.
Functionality for runway occupancy advisory systems will be added in Phase 3.
Phase 4 will add functions for data-linked clearance limits and taxi routes.
Each phase will also address heads-up guidance display systems (HUDs). Additionally, each phase will involve the ongoing development and certification of cockpit display equipment.
An Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) is an instrument that runs applications that allow flight crews to undertake tasks that previously required paper documents and tools.
An EFB can perform flight planning calculations as well as display digital documentation like navigational charts, operations manuals, and aircraft checklists. Most EFBs are fully certified as part of an aircraft’s avionics system and are integrated with other aircraft systems such as the flight management system (FMS).
These advanced systems can also display real-time weather and show an aircraft’s position.
The Electronic Flight Bag comes with a few crucial benefits.
Firstly is organization. It is far easier to organize all relevant calculations and data electronically than by using paper.
The second benefit is accuracy. By performing calculations electronically it is far less likely that a mistake will be made.
The third benefit is the available updates. Given that all information is electronic, the latest charts and manuals can be updated over the air. This, therefore, results in the pilots always having the latest information at their fingertips.
And finally, convenience. By being able to combine an entire flight bag into one device there is far less to carry. This makes it far easier for pilots who just require one tool.
SwiftBroadband provides a packet-switched data and voice-over IP (VoIP) service that is always on.
All key cockpit and cabin applications, such as telephony, text messaging, email, and internet, along with flight planning, weather, and chart updates, are enabled by SwiftBroadband.
It was designed to provide far superior data transmissions via an IP-based internet connection that is always on and always secure.
Because of the increased bandwidth, the data channels will be able to work independently of one another. This, therefore, allows cockpit-related information to take precedence over lower-priority information in the cabin.
SB-B results in benefits for both the crew and passengers, along with the aircraft operator.
Operators are able to provide voice and data services to the crew in the cockpit. Meanwhile, internet connectivity can be provided to the passengers in the back.
Moreover, installation and hardware costs can be reduced as all of these features can be produced by a single system.
The voice channel can be integrated with the audio panel, or a separate dialler can be added to the cockpit. The crew then uses their headsets to communicate with the ground. With the FMS keypad, typical ACARS messaging can now be done in seconds, like texting on a phone.
The latest technology in the cockpit of a private jet results in a safer and more comfortable flight.
Crucially, all features and upgrades achieve this in a common way, increasing simplicity.
For example, the glass cockpit reduces the need for hundreds of analog dials. The information is still the same, yet it is provided in a far easier way.
Additionally, there are features such as the enhanced vision system. A system that increases simplicity by ensuring that pilots can see further and can spend more time looking out the window.