The Australian LightWing SPEED

The Australian LightWing SPEED
2 and 4 Seater Ultralight SPORT Aircraft

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Situational Awareness

““Situational awareness” is the current aviation buzz-phrase, the shortened word is SA !! The term is appearing everywhere from DVD's put out by CASA to traveling seminars; there is one to be held in Ballina early April.

I enjoyed watching the CASA DVD starring my friend James Morrison (with his trumpet) but heaven forbid, I will make a couple of criticisms of the production.

Firstly, there is no reference to sports aviation at all and as this area of aviation is showing by far the fastest growth, this is disapointing. All the aircraft used in the DVD appear to be old, and it is as if the GPS hadn’t been invented.
There is no reference to GPS use anywhere in the movie, Why not ? (and why not use new Australian made aircraft in the movie ?)
Sure, a good set of maps, dead reckoning and a large accurate compass got Smithy and PG Taylor to the US across the Pacific back in the nineteen thirties but now we have these little electronic gadgets that tell you exactly where you are, show you on a map, tell you how long its going to take to get where you are going and for a few extra dollars, I am sure they could be programmed to make you a cuppa on arrival at your destination !
But watching the CASA DVD, you have to wonder about their thinking in leaving . these essential aviation accessories out of the equation. Talk about Situational Awareness? This is what a GPS is for. Sure the CASA DVD hammers the need to look out of the aircraft, (agreed) use your eyes, eat well, keep fit, DONT GET STRESSED !!!!!! I SAID DONT GET STRESSSSSED !!!! (totally agree with all that, see next blog) but when it comes to getting lost which, to me, is the main component or what situational awareness is ....or the result of the lack of it, the GPS is the answer.

The DVD highlights a flight made (years ago probably before GPS's where invented) by a pilot in a (new then, old now) 4 seat aircraft and how he got a “bit” lost, had a head wind he didn’t know was there, ran low on fuel etc. the point is that if the guy had a GPS, he would have known exactly where he was. This, to me was an absolutly pointless outdated story, the principal is ok ie "know where you are" but the demo is shit, likewise the Red Bull pilots story and the story told by the FA18 pilot about how he nearly bought the farm in a shooting exercise. I dont do Red Bull pylon nor do I fly FA18's at Mac 1 doing bombing raids, by now, watching this CASA DVD, I am wondering (a) did Red Bull pay for advertising in this DVD and (b) who put this thing together ??
You may have guessed, I dont think much of the whole Red Bull thing, it certainly dosnt fit with the CASA advice to eat well, I dont know what is in a Red Bull can but I would be very carefull if I got it on my skin !! smelt to me like the coloured sanitary balls you smell in mens urinals...... NASTY........ When they put on the first RB gig in WA I offered to take one of my aircraft over (like thats a long way from Ballina to WA) to display it (wave the Aussie manufacturing flag, all that sort of patriotic stuff etc), they treated me like I was nutts, "why would anyone want to do that " a nice young promotional girl replied.. I gave up !

I am looking forward to the CASA seminar at the Ballina RSL 6pm April the 6th.

At Australian LightWing, we are devoted primarily to safety but also to improving the SA “situational awareness" of our aircraft users... but in a slightly different way to the approach shown by CASA in their DVD.
One comment in this DVD sticks in my mind and it was made by a guy who appeared to be a commercial pilot. He said that whenever he had simply jumped into his aircraft without any preparation to go flying (which HAS brought me undone, see blog coming soon tytle "A flutter over Ballina"), he had experienced problems. If that is'nt exactly the opposite of what RECREATIONAL or SPORTS aviation is all about, then I dont know what is ! Ofcourse, if you are about to take 20 passengers halfway across Australia in a Lear Jet at Mac 0,6, thats a different kettle of fish, but for flying over to Armadale in my SP-2000 on a nice sunny day ???
The Video shows shots of pilots pouring over maps, using slide rules, pieces of string, no ..... where sports aviation is concerned, mostly and in my case, I disagree.
I dont believe an aircraft should be treated much differently to going on a trip in a car or a boat, sure, navigation is a little more important in an aircraft but anything, any device that makes life easier, increases situational awareness is a bonus in my book, any device or procedure that makes an aircraft more like my car gets a tick, to put it another way, any device that REDUCES the mystery of flying, increases the safety of the process. I think that in their DVD, CASA is trying to increase the mystery of flying by adding yet another abreviation... SA, in my book SA = simple common sence, is CASA going to introduce exams on SA ? I hope not.

So, based on the above argument, we here at Australian LightWing, have taken cockpit situational awareness 3 steps further, firstly we have added a BIG GPS screen with a 3 dimensional view and second, we have added instant access to flat maps and third, we have added instant and detailed access to the weather via an internet connection to the BOM (or any other) site. There are still a few things missing like proximity alearts of other aircraft but that, one would hope, will come in time.
Using our CAN (Computer Aided Navigation) and the American software Mountainscope, we present to the pilot (as a standard feature of our 2 seat SP-2000) both a 2 and a 3 dimensional picture of the world in front of the aircraft. Mountain Scope, developed in the US by a clever guy named Todd Sprag, gives all necessary SA information but the problem we saw was to present this to the pilot in a big, clear, instant and effective way. A small screen off to the side of the pilots view clipped to a strut (the usual location of a small GPS and yes, there is one shown like this in the CASA DVD) was not going to cut it at all so, after much research, time, effort and cost, we arrived at the installation of a large, bright and effective 25 cm LCD screen and we placed it in our dashboard right smack dab in front of the pilot and to add to its effectiveness, we placed it under the dashboard hood such that it is almost totally shielded from sunlight. You could say we have designed our cockpit around this system. An unfortunate point to be made is that this makes a retro fit of our system, to an existing aircraft, difficult without a redesign, well, so be it !.
No, we DO NOT include engine information on our CAN screen, Rotax provides perfectly good individual gauges that are approved with the engine so these are what we have to use in an LSA aircraft.
AND... situational awareness....SA is about having information at your fingertips, "in your face" so to speak, if the aircraft manufacturer goes to a lot of trouble to build in a smart navigational aid (as I believe we have with our CAN) then chances are, it will be very user friendly, go bolting things into your dashboard yourself then good luck.

The 10" or 25cm LCD display is called a “daylight readable LCD” screen (it operates off the aircrafts 12V DC power supply) and for those that are familiar with this sort of device, it has its brightness measured in Nitts, our screen has the maximum currently available at 1300 Nitts, as a comparison, a standard Laptop has a screen brightness of about 400 Nitts and is of little use in an aircraft cockpit on a sunny day.

Mountainscope (a screen shot is shown above) has been described to me as the envy of many commercial pilots during demonstration flights in the SP-2000.
Also, I have to comment that there are so many cases recently where, if this simple system had been fitted or even just carried on the aircraft on a lpatop, lives would have been saved, the Metro that crashed in Far N QLD a few years back is a case in point.
Mountain Scope allows, among other things, colors to be applied to mountain tops that are above the aircraft's altitude (they are shaded red), that is, mountains you could hit unless you climb, and can be selected in increments of 1000ft. The 10” screen can be split in 2 to provide a combination of map and 3d view or just the full screen map or the full screen 3D view. The 3D view by the way, uses a digital gyro to move the image in sync with the aircraft's pitch, yaw and roll motion and also has an AH and compass bezel optionally super-imposed on the 3D view and the flat map. The map is seamless with no need to load new ones.

When flying with or without an autopilot, you optionally fly down a road in the sky superimposed on the 3D view, it just doesn’t get any better than that. The road on the screen / in the sky, takes you to your next waypoint and you would have to try very hard to loose your SA with this brilliant electronic assistance.

Loose visibility; and the artificial terrain will act as a guide to what is up and what is down, roll left and right, airspeed and heading, nearest airports and control zone boundaries, its all there, operated by the touch screen or track-ball and when landing, the runway shows up and acts a guide down to the piano keys.

Compare this to using a 40 year old vacume operated AH, get real, talk about mystery, trying to make sence of a blue and brown ball when you cant see a damm thing outside the aircraft !!

Get in and go is my approach and also the approach of many sports aviators (conditions apply of course) but if you plug in your mobile phone to our system, you can then log onto the net and to the BOM site and there is all your weather data on the screen.
The big brand name glass panels, don’t provide the pilot with access to their onboard PC, probably out of a fear that they will do something to crash or copy the programs but our system provides the pilot with complete access to the Windows-NT operating system and its essential internet capability.
So, ok, you can get this sort of info on your mobile phone but this means taking your eyes off the aircraft, focussing on a tiny screen, with our CAN its all there, big, readable easy to see, no fuss or bother. SA at its best.
I am well aware that I am skating on thin ice here, providing arguments that are the opposite to people who may be a little more experienced that I am, and, no offence to James Morrison but I cant even play the trumpet, having watched the CASA DVD, I now intend producing my own take on SA, watch this space and I will be prepared to cop the flack when the job is on the streets. Meantime call us and ask for a copy of our DVD to see Mountainscope and also the flat mapping software Fugawie, in action. You can also go to www.pcavionics and download a trial version of Mountainscope and fly around the USA in Cyberspace.

Fugawie, the 3rd addition to our situational awareness toolbox, is the flat mapping program loaded to our CAN system , this program stores and displays all the normal aviation charts WAC TAC VTC etc, on the screen and ofcourse locates your position on the chart, all too easy to use. I carry a paper map and a small portable GPS as a backup. Flight planning with either Mountainscope or Fugawie is made very easy, no mystery, no rulers or sliderules, just plain easy.

Pocket FMS is also available, like Mountainscope, the 2D maps are continuous but lack the detail of Fugawie maps which are taken from actual aero charts.

Go to for a look at what we call our CAN System.