Meet the Avionics Innovator: Mike Mena

avionics, technology, aviation
Written By Lesley Conn

Mike Mena helped lead Gulfstream’s introduction of significant safety features such as enhanced vision and synthetic vision. As director of advanced cockpit programs, he looks beyond the horizon of business aviation.

How much more enhanced can artificial vision become?

One program we’re developing would give pilots 100 percent capability to take off and land in nearly any kind of weather. is great, but when the weather gets really thick, pilots still can’t see enough and they have to divert. There’s a type of radar used in nonaviation applications that can see through fog or clouds. We’re working to determine if we can install similar equipment in an aircraft. It’s a good example of Gulfstream examining existing technology to see if we can adapt it to aviation.

Where do you look for new ideas?

Recently we’ve been going to the Consumer Electronics Show to see what’s out there. One example is the rear-camera display on many new automobiles. Our pilots asked if we could give them more visibility as they maneuver aircraft on the ground. We started with one camera on each wingtip and made sure there was a wide enough field of view to provide one continuous picture in the cockpit. We also know there’s a risk of damage to the tail as the tug driver pushes the plane into the hangar. So we also want to look at providing a 360-degree view. We’re still very much at the beginning of the project.

What’s been one of the more long-term developments?

We’ve been looking at voice control for at least 12 years. After some initial research, our pilots told us where they really saw a need is when flying to an international or unfamiliar airport. When air traffic controllers say a clearance and it’s not understood, pilots hate to ask ‘Say again.’ So they asked if we could develop a system to transcribe an audible ATC transmission. That sounds simple in concept, but that’s really quite difficult. For voice control to work, it has to have some level of intelligence. The system has to know the tail number and listen to the air traffic to identify only those transmissions intended for that aircraft. Another challenge is the nuances involved in understanding a global variety of accents.

Speaking of challenges, what cockpit innovations will be needed for a supersonic business jet?

If we want to go supersonic, pilots may not have a window in front of them because the nose is so long. We have to come up with a set of displays, cameras and sensors that accurately mimic reality. Pilots would think they’re looking through a window, but really they would be looking at a set of displays. That’s our charter: When Gulfstream is ready to announce a supersonic aircraft, we in avionics have to make sure we’re ready for them.

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