The pilot is known as the star of the show when it comes to an aeroplane journey, but when it comes to designing and building a cockpit system, it’s the engineer that everyone looks up to. Honeywell’s Anne Lillywhite looks at the power of aerospace engineers.

Electronic instruments within the cockpit didn’t exist 50 years ago, but since then developments in technology and an increased need for awareness drastically changed our access and implementation of electronics within the cockpit. Technological advancements allow pilots and flight crews to pre-plan and navigate with the push of a few buttons.

As an industry, aviation is more advanced than most people would expect. Today, we make it a point to listen to operators’ needs and follow market trends when designing and building products and systems. Honeywell’s 2016 Business Aviation Outlook results showed global aircraft purchases face a slowing in the pace of near-term orders while projecting a longer-range forecast that indicated slight growth in the market annually. Operators saw the results of the outlook and market trends, which prompted them to ensure the systems within their fleet are up to date with the latest upgrades, innovative safety products, services and enhanced in-flight connectivity.

Engineers gaining visibility

I work as part of the Honeywell engineering team in Prague and oversee the electronic “cockpit systems” and “navigation and sensors” technical activities in our region. Having worked in engineering for well over 25 years, I have a strong grasp of the sector and a passion for the way technology works, which drew me towards engineering. As a team, we work across a range of technologies for the cockpit to help ensure pilots can fly safer and more efficiently, making the journey more comfortable for all on-board. Cockpit upgrades are a large part of modernising an aircraft and ensuring its longevity, and engineers are now gaining more visibility as a major player tackling the challenges and opportunities in the upgrades process.

As industry-wide regulations continue to change, operators are planning on upgrading their technology earlier and wanting to see more capability in their systems. Operators are looking for a lot in their cockpit products. They want their cockpit systems to enable smoother flight operations, allow them to save time and money, and all while increasing aircraft value.

Cockpit technologies solving challenges

There are a number of challenges cockpit technologies are relieving today, weather being one of the biggest challenges. Honeywell’s Connected Weather Radar assists the flight crew in making more strategic decisions, with access to Weather Information Service and IntuVue RDR-4000 3D weather radar systems. Together these technologies allow the pilot to download weather data in real-time up to 10 hours in advance and upload the flight plan on the service app. Engineering teams across the US and Europe have worked together on the overall concept of the technology, the radar modifications and electronic flight-bag application, which enables the weather information. This concept is known as “Crowdsourced Weather”, as it uses weather information from many independent sources to create a complete picture of the current and potential weather patterns.

The team has worked on innovations that include the use of volumetric 3D scanning and pulse compression technologies, which vastly improve weather detection and unique predictive hazard warnings for unpredictable weather.

In addition to tackling weather, navigation solutions are a big challenge today and the SmartPath Ground-Based Augmentation System (GBAS) increases airport capacity whilst being cost-effective. It is the first and only Federal Aviation Administration certified GBAS system for Category I operations, with Category II in development; it can provide the pilot with up to 26 different precision approaches and covers the entire airport. SmartPath not only increases airport capacity but also has a range of benefits such as reducing delays for operators and system availability, even in adverse weather conditions where other instrument landing systems are typically out of service. From a pilot’s point of view, the GBAS system is built to work in alignment with instrument landing systems. For flight crews, it is identical in experience and therefore doesn’t require any extra training.

Engineers’ crucial role

The importance of engineers has been constant but now their visibility continues to increase. Although engineers do not fly the aircraft themselves, having a deeper understanding of what the pilot and flight crew requires for better planning and a safer journey is a key factor in building and delivering the most advanced, innovative cockpit technologies. We live in a world of growing connectivity and a seemingly endless amount of information, and the cockpit systems we design help lead the way in a connected aerospace world. Innovation thrives by thinking differently and as engineers. We design by blending physical hardware with software. We focus on learning, adapting and working to find the best solutions for the challenging issues we face in aviation.