Every day we are swamped by a tidal wave of information. Our task is to find what’s important to us without getting bogged down with a flood of data that isn’t relevant at the moment.
Imagine you’re flying a jet airplane with advanced avionics that can present gigabits of data every few seconds about where you are, where you’re going, and what’s happening with the airplane. How do you sort through that mass of information to find what matters most right now?
That’s the task the Gulfstream team of pilots and engineers who designed the advanced Symmetry Flight Deck in the new Gulfstream G500 and G600 family of jets took on. And after years of study of how the best pilots operate and how we humans interact with electronic devices most effectively, the team created Gulfstream’s proprietary Phase-of-Flight intelligence system.
What the Gulfstream experts discovered is that pilots routinely use only a small amount of the data available in a modern cockpit for any specific phase of flight—takeoff, cruise, approach, etc. On a typical flight, the crew of a business jet may need only about 10 percent of the information a comprehensive avionics system generates at any given time. The other 90 percent of available data applies in other circumstances and needs to be available as those conditions warrant. How to deliver the information pilots need, when they need it, is the challenge.
In the G500 and G600 Symmetry Flight Decks, both pilots have a touch screen directly under each hand. Any screen can control any system and display all available information.
The key element of Phase-of-Flight intelligence is Gulfstream’s development of proprietary touch control units. Like your personal tablet device, the touch screens in the G500 and G600 can show information in any format that best suits the situation. In other airplanes, pilots use dedicated keypads or knobs and switches to operate the aircraft systems. But with the touch screens, the displays and how pilots control the airplane and its systems are tailored to the situation, or more precisely, to the specific phase of flight. Collectively, the touch screens reduce flight deck switch count by approximately 70 percent.
In the G500 and G600 Symmetry Flight Decks, both pilots have a touch screen directly under each hand. Any screen can control any system and display all available information. The 10 touch screens are functionally interchangeable, completely configurable to pilot preference and operate independently.
But to cut through the overwhelming amount of data the displays can present, Gulfstream organized essential information into five phases of flight: startup, taxi, takeoff, en route and arrival. Each of these displays could be called a “chapter” as in a book, and each is organized to step through the standard procedures required to complete the tasks required or desired for each phase of flight.
Because the touch screens offer seemingly unlimited display possibilities, Phase-of-Flight technology uses combinations of words, numbers and icons to deliver information most effectively. Pilots can tap an icon to call up a new menu or category of information. Other taps on the screen can select route waypoints, change a communications frequency or manage an aircraft system.
Though the Symmetry Flight Deck touch screens resemble your personal tablet device, they have significant operational differences. Because the system must be certain the pilot has entered a command and not just brushed or bumped the screen, it takes three ounces of fingertip pressure to enter a command. And that pressure must be maintained for one-fifth of a second to be sure the command is intentional.
For decades, airplanes have had “guards” over switches that control critical functions, such as shutting down an aircraft system. The concept is that two actions are required to perform the critical operation: first lifting the guard and second moving the switch. The “guarded” switch helps prevent accidental or unintentional activation. In the Symmetry Flight Deck, those formerly “guarded” switch operations require two distinct touches on the screen to select and then confirm activation.
Three ounces of pressure from your finger for at least one-fifth of a second doesn’t sound like much, but it is very noticeable at first. Pilots new to the system who, like the rest of us, are used to a mere finger brush on their personal tablet device changing the screen need some time to adjust. But in a jet flying at hundreds of miles per hour it’s critical that all changes pilots make on the touch screens are deliberate.
It would seem logical to automate operation of the Phase-of-Flight system and have the displays step through takeoff to climb to en route and so on automatically. But that would leave out the key word “intelligence.” Gulfstream named the system Phase-of-Flight intelligence because it is the human, the pilot, who brings the intelligence and experience. The system is there to deliver the information the pilot needs in the most effective way but the pilot always remains in control.
What the revolutionary Phase-of-Flight technology does is make sense of all that information in human terms to reduce workload, enhance safety and even increase the enjoyment of flying.
That’s why the pilot selects the Phase-of-Flight chapter, why the pilot can move to any phase at any time, and why he or she can jump ahead when the conditions warrant. For example, if a crew gets a message en route that their destination airport is landing on a certain runway after flying a standard arrival procedure, that information can be entered without going to the arrival Phase-of-Flight display.
Startup and taxi are two of the busiest periods for pilots on any flight. The Gulfstream team spent a great deal of time designing and then testing in simulators how best to organize the many tasks and mountains of data that must be handled during those phases.
In a conventional cockpit, information is delivered to the pilot as text and digits. And that’s essential. A crew must know the target airspeeds that govern each takeoff, for example. But Phase-of-Flight technology also displays critical data in graphical form. For example, a G500 or G600 pilot can read target takeoff speeds and required runway length, but also see a profile graph of the takeoff path.
Nothing summarizes a pile of numbers better than a graph. Our minds intuitively absorb the information in graphical format. If there is something odd or unusual in a graph it will jump out, while the same information presented in a long list of numbers can be very hard to spot.
Of course, if an abnormal or emergency situation were to develop, Phase-of-Flight technology directs the crew to the checklists and schematic information needed to resolve the situation.
We are long past the goal of supplying pilots with a wealth of information in the cockpit. What’s been missing is a logical and effective way to prioritize and sort that information to give pilots what they need now in an effective manner. That was the objective of the many years of study and testing the Gulfstream team invested in developing the Symmetry Flight Deck. What the revolutionary Phase-of-Flight technology does is make sense of all that information in human terms to reduce workload, enhance safety and even increase the enjoyment of flying the next generation family of the world’s most technologically advanced aircraft from Gulfstream.
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