Boeing Unveils new cockpit technology

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Boeing unveils new cockpit technology

March 21, 2002 Posted: 10:50 AM EST (1550 GMT)

A "head-up display" shows flight information as seen from a pilot's view on Boeing's aircraft.  
SEATTLE, Washington (AP) -- Cruising at about 11,000 feet, the pilot suddenly banks sharply toward Mount Rainier. Immediately, a digital display inside the cockpit of the Boeing 737-900 turns the mountain an ominous red.









The pilot, on a potentially dangerous course, banks away from the mountain, which is some 80 miles away.

The specially-fitted jetliner, which Boeing is about to show to airlines from around the world, promotes new technologies which they say could make flying safer, quieter and easier on the pilot.

Boeing's goal, product marketer Ken Hiebert said during Tuesday's demonstration flight, is partly to sell new technology in a depressed market.

But the world's largest airplane maker also believes the host of new equipment can make it possible for more airplanes to fly more safely at the same time and in bad weather.

And that will ensure future business for Boeing.

The gamble is unusual for Boeing but perhaps to be expected from a company that in recent years has started thinking about expanding from its traditional role as airplane manufacturer and moving into the larger aviation market.

"For Boeing, you gotta believe this is 'outside the box,' " Hiebert said.

For the average passenger, the test flight is too. To show off the new technology, pilots Mike Carriker and Ray Craig do things that would likely send those complimentary in-flight beverages flying.

Banking the plane toward Mount Rainier -- which stands at nearly 14,500 feet -- was one such stunt When Carriker banked the plane away, the mountain turned a more inviting green on the display.

Digital displays

Elsewhere in the cockpit, there are several other digital displays. One shows the airplane's position in computer-game Technicolor, a colored display outlining the landscape while a yellow box displays the projected flight path. The pilot's job is to keep the airplane inside the box, although he has help from other technologies on board.

Boeing hopes computer game-like technology on board a Boeing 737-900 plane will make flying safer and more efficient.  

Another gadget uses infrared technology to keep on the lookout for potential hazards, much like military night-vision goggles. Directly in front of the pilot, a clear glass screen called a "head-up display" shows the pilot's position and other essentials in green type, eliminating the need for the pilot to look down and away from the front windows during crucial moments during the flight.

A few minutes after passing Mount Rainier, the pilots prepare to land at Grant County Airport in Moses Lake, about 150 miles away from Boeing Field in Seattle.

Instead of heading straight for the runway, the pilots make a sort-of in-flight U-turn and prepare for a curved landing. The plane's course is tracked on the bright computer game-like display -- bright green grass, black runway and blue sky are offset by the yellow box that tells the airplane where it should be at all times.

Such an unusual landing course -- made possible by advanced systems for tracking more closely where an airplane is at all times -- could eventually let more planes land faster and from different angles, alleviating the crowding that causes airplanes to circle while waiting for an open spot to land.

Hiebert compares it to a freeway -- right now, there's one lane, but eventually, with advanced technology for determining a plane's position, planes could take off and land on the equivalent of an eight-lane freeway, moving more planes more quickly in and out of airports.

Saving headaches

At 400 feet, the pilots pull up sharply, bank dramatically one last time and prepare for another descent. This one is hands off -- a global positioning system does most of the work, smoothly dipping the plane onto the runway using the same satellite-based technology people use in their cars today.

New technology by Boeing should make it easier on pilots, such as Ray Craig, left, and Mike Carriker, preparing a Boeing 737-900 Technology Demonstrator for a flight.  

That technology is at the heart of Boeing's air traffic management plan, but -- with only a few airports equipped for the technology -- it's far from market-ready. The company is still working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a suggested plan, but it's unclear at this point whether the government body will adapt the aerospace giant's proposal. Boeing maintains that the technology, already in use by freight carrier FedEx, would make air flight cheaper and easier, and also is exploring other markets for the technology, such as China.

Other technology is already in use, however.

Taking off to fly back to Boeing Field, Carriker and Craig show off a new way to make airplane takeoffs quieter -- a quick ascent, then a sharp, stomach-tumbling leveling to quiet the engine over noise-sensitive areas before going back into the ascent.

Some of the devices, such as the colorful mapping display, are based on stored maps, while others, such as the infrared display, track what's going on in real time. At present, only the company's global landing system is linked to the satellite-based global positioning system.

While all the gadgets could save headaches for air traffic controllers and residents near airports, Boeing says the package could have the biggest benefits for pilots, who can more easily spot potential trouble by using the simple graphic displays in easy-to-see places around the cockpit.

"We think it's decreasing workload and enhancing safety," said Craig, the test pilot.

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