August 3, 2013 - In aviation, advanced technology can trickle up and trickle down. An example of technology first being used in smaller airplanes and then going mainstream might include use of composite materials for building airframes, or perhaps GPS. Examples of technology migrating in the other direction could include pressurization, or even airborne weather radar.
And then there are technologies appearing in both the upper and lower ends at roughly the same time. Enhanced vision systems (EVS) - or the use of infrared cameras and/or radar to image what's in front of an aircraft - is such an example. An EVS is useful at night and in low visibility, like on taxiways or on final approach in low instrument conditions.
The technology first went mainstream on Gulfstreams and now is available on a growing number of general aviation aircraft, including offerings from Cirrus and Cessna. An EVS differs from synthetic vision in that it's presenting real-time imagery of the environment ahead of the aircraft instead of generating symbology from an onboard database.
When crews are appropriately trained to use EVS, the FAA can approve the aircraft for approaches at minimums lower than a standard Category I instrument landing system allows. That's genuinely useful for many operators. Even if the aircraft and crew aren't allowed to use less than Category I minimums, being able to see what's ahead on a dark and stormy night enhances situational awareness and, thereby, safety.
For the typical general aviation operator, a system developed by Astronics, the Max-Viz 600, is pretty much the only game in town. Astronics holds supplemental type certificates (STCs) for virtually all non-pressurized Cessna singles (including all-metal versions of the Cessna 140!), the Cirrus SR20 and -22, Beech Bonanzas and Barons, and a handful of Pipers. Jets, turboprops, and helicopters also can mount the system under an STC.
At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013, the system is an available option on new Cessnas and Cirruses equipped with Garmin's G1000 glass panel. According to Astronics, output from the Max-Viz 600 can be displayed on a wide variety of avionics, including the Garmin G500 and G600, as well as the G1000, Avidyne's R9 systems, the Bendix/King KMD-850, and more.
Whether added at the factory or in the field, a fairing enclosing the infrared camera is mounted under a wing, with its output routed to the cockpit via cabling. When in use, the resulting imagery is arranged on compatible displays.
An EVS isn't for everybody. But aircraft with them are more and more prevalent at AirVenture. Someday, the technology may be as ubiquitous as GPS, helping enhance runway and airport safety for operators of all aircraft.