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At the sharp end: The D3 Novel Business Jet Cockpit Technologies

Clean Sky's Novel Business Jet Cockpit concept project brings together innovations to enhance the functionality and safety of flight crew operations, while enabling the streamlining of pilot workflow, improving operability and competitiveness.

Part-Task Simulator located in Brno (Czech Republic) in Honeywell International s.r
Part-Task Simulator located in Brno (Czech Republic) in Honeywell International s.r

According to Clean Sky project officer Paolo Trinchieri, the research and development being carried out as part of Clean Sky’s Novel Business Jet concept project is intended to ‘demonstrate the integration of novel functions in the cockpit environment to keep Business Jets (BJ) at the forefront of innovation regarding flight operations and mission management.’ 

The project, which started in 2015, is technically oriented around Clean Sky Ground and Flight Demonstrator D3, and aims to mature a cluster of enabling technology bricks based on disruptive solutions that can be deployed on the future generation of BJ aircraft. The ambition is to position European aeronautics advantageously in the fiercely contested global business jet sector. 

Dassault Aviation (manufacturer of the Falcon BJ family) is collaborating in this endeavour with two major partners - Honeywell for the cockpit avionics elements, focusing on the DECK project, focusing on the DECK project (Disruptive European CocKpit) and SAFRAN for the power electronics and avionics, as part of the UBBICK project (Utilities Building Blocks for CocKpit).

Other European industrial companies and research institutes also contribute to the project, and as with every Clean Sky 2 initiative, this project is funded in part by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Programme. 

‘The D3 roadmap incorporates several incremental steps of maturation from definition of concept of operation, development of the technologies and means of validation using bench tests and simulators, up to flight tests when assessment by pilots in real flying conditions is required or when flight technical data are required as inputs for technology development and improvement,’ says Mathieu Favier, Clean Sky 2 LPA Avionics and Cockpit Coordinator at Dassault Aviation, the topic leader of the overall project. 

There are three streams of activities: development and maturation of enhanced functions and technologies to support eventual deployment, integration of these functions and technologies and assessment of their installed performances in a business jet operational context. 

Top-level objectives include the improvement of eco-mission management in line with Clean Sky 2’s sustainability goals, crew efficiencies, reducing crew workload in the context of more complex systems, enhancement of better awareness within the cockpit, as well as the introduction of technology bricks that improve pilot vigilance of external situations and threats. 

Additionally, the project aims to reduce time and cost for aircraft design, operation and maintenance costs by the introduction of a centralised platform for aircraft systems; and improve operational access of business jets to secondary airports that lack the landing aids commonly found at larger airports. This last objective says Favier, will ‘strengthen gate-to-gate navigation capability – it's a differentiator compared to the commercial airliner fleets’ – and aligns with EU aspirations to improve regional connectivity. 

The technology enablers being developed will meet or improve today's safety criteria, a key requirement for the overall project, and within which there is a cluster of thematics, including a cockpit avionics project (with core partner Honeywell) exploring multimodality and voice-to-system technologies intended to improve pilot interactions with cockpit avionics and leverage synergies of several human senses. The monitoring pilot states and approach assistants will also be part of the topics matured within DECK. 

Multimodality and voice-to-system technologies

Multimodality technology involves several new modalities including speech recognition, synthetic voice delivered to the pilots, as well as voice transcriptions from external sources such as Air Traffic Control being converted into text and displayed to the pilot. 

The main benefit of multimodality is that it gives the pilot the facility to choose, depending on the operational context, the interface option that suits them best from a choice of legacy cursor control devices, touch or voice means. 

‘Cross-modality allows natural contextualisation, hence reducing the burden of defining many specific details when carrying out an action,’ says Favier. ‘For example, by touching a waypoint on a NAV display, and by saying “Direct to here,” thereby decreasing pilot workload.’ 

By late 2020, the multimodality project had successfully crossed a significant maturity step in the development of modalities and the demonstration of user-cases: such as the electronic checklist procedure user-case, exploring new modalities such as speech recognition, synthetic voice, and the Air Traffic Control transcription user-case.

Cross-modality allows natural contextualisation, hence reducing the burden of defining many specific details when carrying out an action

Monitoring pilot states 

As business jets now have the potential to travel for longer ranges there are increasing concerns regarding pilot fatigue and the chances of unintentional sleep in the cockpit. A key theme of the D3 project is the development of a pilot state monitoring (PSM) system enabling advanced detection of improper pilot states (drowsiness, sleep, fatigue). The PSM incorporates a real-time monitoring system intended to deliver reliable information on the pilot’s psychophysiological state, in contrast to today's predictive models that are used for operations scheduling. 

In order to monitor the state of the pilot, ‘several combinations of sensors are evaluated to determine which is the best fitting for an accurate prediction,’ says Favier. One important key to this technology ‘is to have significant data collection. From a statistical point of view, the more data we have, the more accurate the detection system will be.’ 

At the end of last year, work focused on the improvement of detection algorithms for the selected pilot states i.e. sleep and drowsiness. Substantial progress was achieved in increasing the data collection size, engaging in data analysis and parametrisation updates, generating tools for the processing analysis and visualisation of the results. 

Descent and approach assistants 

Descent and approach assistants relay information to pilots, while facilitating better energy management and approach stabilisation to support pilot awareness. 

Favier points out that the critical phases in the flight mission are during takeoff, approach and landing phases: ‘One of the concerns of pilots is to have accurate knowledge of the situation during approach. From different surveys, the majority of accidents or incidents occur during these critical phases. Approach assistants will help to improve the navigation of aircraft in the final phases of the flight.’

In the context of business aircraft operations, the project contributes to the reduction of business aviation's carbon footprint. The assistant will reduce the number of unstabilised approaches and hence the number of go-arounds (this is when a landing is aborted close to touchdown when the pilot feels that the landing might cause some safety issue. Subsequently a circuit of the airport is made, followed by a reattempt at landing). 

One of the concerns of pilots is to have accurate knowledge of the situation during approach. From different surveys, the majority of accidents or incidents occur during these critical phases. Approach assistants will help to improve the navigation of aircraft in the final phases of the flight

New architectures linked to integrated modular avionics 

UBBICK is a power electronics and avionics project which focuses on the development of a remote data power cabinet (RDPC). ‘The idea,’ explains Favier, ‘is to imagine a new architecture with a centralised set of resources to really benefit the aircraft, and it's linked to the theme of integrated modular avionics (IMA).’

Whereas the traditional architecture of aircraft avionics systems is based on stand-alone cabinets installed in the aircraft airframe, the RDPC architecture unites several types of functions in one single cabinet (or several depending on safety requirements). 

To achieve this the UBBICK concept embeds a configuration tool framework, which enables updates to the input-output (I/O) resources, adding the latest services for equipment in-service through a unique standardised and certified access point. The project has started to procure high level requirements from the airframer for the expected services, followed by detailed definition and development of the solution by SAFRAN. 

In 2020, the project focused on achieving system integration. To achieve this goal, RDPC subassembly tasks were performed throughout the year: I/O, processing boards design, manufacturing, software development and integration, design and manufacturing of the rack packaging hosting the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), software development and testing of the configuration tool framework. 

At the end of 2020, the system integration stage was passed, in which tests at system level were performed to ensure proper communication and operation of the interconnected components. 

A sharp-eyed approach

The ANGI-HUD project is exploring another set of technologies, including the dual head-up-display (HUD). This focuses on an enhanced HUD concept of pilot operations using HUD as the primary means to ensure short-term aircraft control, maintaining and even extending the safety margin 'by staying ahead of the aircraft'. This contributes to better awareness of the situation in critical phases of flight, specifically approach, take-off and landing. 

Another concept explored by the ANGI-HUD partners was to develop an interactive HUD concept that enables the pilot to control the aircraft using their eyes as a pointer and a knob located on the armrest. This lets the pilot alter the aircraft’s speed, control the autopilot, set flaps, or retract the landing gear – functions that previously required a pilot to divert their eyes. 

Testing took place on different test benches according to development and evaluation phases. First, testing was carried out with a computer simulator, and then the concept was tested both on real hardware and in a flight simulator with airline and business jet pilots. 

‘We designed the tests in the simulator to be as close as possible to real life operations and flight procedures,’ says Shay Simhoni, programme manager of commercial aviation at Elbit. 

‘The pilots had to fly in demanding flight phases (initial departure, intermediate/final approach, go-around) while controlling the main avionic and aircraft systems via the HUD.’ 

In the course of the research Elbit mapped out a few future HMIs (human machine interfaces) including voice recognition, to enable pilots to interact with the HUDs. Final tests and evaluations included eye-tracking technology for interaction with the HUD. 

‘We had to balance making the eye-tracking as intuitive as thinking, while meeting avionics design and safety practices,’ says Simhoni. ‘The system can only be activated when the pilot pushes a button mounted on their flight controls. Then we used several common practices in avionics such as highlighting the desired selection only, or by providing clear feedback after selection.’ 

We designed the tests in the simulator to be as close as possible to real life operations and flight procedures

The human factor 

All these technologies are intended to lighten the workload. However, Favier emphasises that ‘humans will remain at the centre of the next generation cockpit for mission management and decision making. Technologies like the new multimodality means, dual sole means HUD, and approach assistant are intended to improve awareness of internal (aircraft systems, navigation management) and external threat situations, but the decision maker will remain the pilot.’ 

Next steps for the D3 novel business jet cockpit project include demonstration of user case scenarios representative of various aircraft systems, and environment tests to increase maturity of the technology bricks.

Candidate innovative technology bricks matured in Clean Sky 2 frame for next generation of Business Jet cockpit
Candidate innovative technology bricks matured in Clean Sky 2 frame for next generation of Business Jet cockpit