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Remarks September 2014 Issue

Future Flight

Technological advances in aviation are few, slow and occur in small increments. Aside from composite materials, airframes are essentially unchanged over the last 70 years. Engines? Well, there have been a few interesting attempts to modernize, but even the antiquated magneto spark remains dominant. So, the aviator seeking the latest advances has to focus on electronics, which, fortunately, are evolving at a remarkably fast pace.

Recent products from Aspen and others have focused on wirelessly sending GPS and flight plan data from a panel-mount navigator to your portable. Aspen expanded that to include the ability to send flight plan information from your portable back to the navigator.

Now, Garmin’s new Connext Flight Stream products do that plus send ADS-B and SiriusXM weather from the aircraft to the portable. With this, they’re still encouraging the use of certified stuff in the panel, but at the same time making all that information available wirelessly to up to four portables, while dramatically increasing the panel-mount capabilities through the use of the portable.

All cool stuff. I wonder what’s next.
In fact, Garmin’s announcement got me thinking. What will the well-equipped cockpit look like in 20, 30 years or more? Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t know. We can have a little fun guessing, though.

We’re certainly safe assuming that the present adaptation of tablets to monitor, and gradually control, our aircraft will accelerate, perhaps even to the point where the pilot of a large aircraft can take her tablet with her to the lav and still control the aircraft. Single-pilot airliners, anyone?

Our daily lives today increasingly rely on continuous access to remote data. It probably won’t be long before affordable data connections to airborne devices enable tremendous advances.

Imagine a data link between your avionics suite and ATC—and the rest of the world, for that matter—that eliminates the need for frequency changes and even directly enters flight plan or vector commands ready to be executed with a push button. You’ll even be able to notify Gra’ma of your exact arrival time—or she can remotely access your aircraft to get it.

Voice command? That’s somewhat available now. If you need anything not automatically provided, imagine just asking for it. Although with direct data link, a great majority of manual manipulation of the avionics will be eliminated. Still, though, “Autopilot: Fly heading 270,” has a certain appeal. And, naturally, the few functions that aren’t voice-enabled will be touch-controlled.
I also expect the whole panel to be one big user-configurable display. Today’s synthetic vision will be expanded with a database far more detailed to provide accurate recreations of the view out the window. We won’t need infrared vision with its fuzzy black and white images; the view on the heads-up display will always be of a perfect VMC day. Zero-zero landings for GA are almost certain to follow.

Why, all this will even help enable Airbus’s recently patented concept of the windowless cockpit in the tail, if you’re willing to carry the idea to the extreme. I’m not, but the other stuff will be cool.
—Frank Bowlin

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