|Aircraft display simplifies flying
By Duwayne Escobedo
...PENSACOLA, Fla. -- David Still wanted to fly. The only problem? Learning all those
dials, gauges, buttons and other confusing array of controls involved in flight.
...“I found it totally frustrating and difficult,” says the Florida Institute for Human and
Machine Cognition research scientist. “It drove me nuts.”
...Nonetheless, Still did obtain his private pilot’s license in 1984. But the one-time
optometrist has devoted himself to developing a better, more natural and easier
control panel display for aircraft, ever since his dissertation in 1998 involving vision
sciences and physiological optics.
...It all led to his “OZ” display for fixed-wing aircraft and “Stickman” for rotary-wing
aircraft to enhance a pilot’s flying abilities. The displays, Still explains, are a way of
“bringing the outside to the inside” when airborne.
...Instead of tracking six instruments directly in front of their eyes, essentially focusing
on your thumb at arm’s length, he says, the displays optimize peripheral vision. This
allows more information to be processed faster.
...Still compares it to driving your car down a highway, when you “see” signs without
...“You can ride down the center of a highway and still read road signs. This frees up
your focal system,” he said. Think of stop signs as an example.
...In addition Still’s flight control displays reduce the workload on pilots’ brains with its
computers crunching all the complicated formulas to determine such important flight
information as speed, pitch and power settings. As a result, pilots’ can concentrate
more on complex decision-making factors.
...That’s because OZ and Stickman alleviate the need of today’s pilots having to
focus on an instrument for at least 1/5 of a second, so they remember the reading,
which then allows them to recall a formula and make an aerodynamic calculation in
...“For some reason this is revolutionary thought,” Still says, chuckling. “People don’t
believe you. It’s a lot easier but I can’t get people to believe that either.”
...Yet, none of these video-game looking flight control panel displays are mounted in
any aircraft today. A makeshift cockpit with the displays do take up the middle of Still’
s IHMC office in Pensacola.
...That’s why Still has begun building an experimental aircraft. A former U.S. Navy
commander who retired after 20 years of service as the senior O.D./Ph.D at the
Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, he is building the Vans RV-12 at
...“That’s how serious I am with this,” Still says. He has conducted several studies
already that show just how easy and well OZ and Stickman can enhance pilots’ flight
...For example, one study tested 37 active duty instructor pilots from the Marine
Corps, Navy and Air Force. After three hours of OZ training, 35 flew better with the
control panel and two did just as well compared to the conventional flight instruments.
...With helicopter pilots who had yet to begin their training, all achieved stable hovers
after training on the IHMC flight control display, especially compared to using
conventional flight instruments.
...Still and IHMC research scientist Tom Eskridge say they are still researching
optimum performances for many flight operations, such as refinements in navigation
design. They both see hundreds of potential applications, including use in cyber
security, lunar vehicles, automobiles and robots.
...“In terms of where this is going, there is a lot of room to manipulate the things they
are doing, such as how abstract versus how real the design is,” Eskridge says,
pointing to analysis on whether a 160- or 165-degree camera view works best.
...It is not the only flight research going on at IHMC, that employs scientists and
engineers who collaborate on a number of cutting-edge developments that enhance
human and machine performance.
...Matt Johnson, an IHMC research associate who has worked with OZ, is currently
working with the Air Force on improving the navigation of unmanned micro-air
vehicles in complex indoor and outdoor environments.
...Johnson, a former Navy pilot, explains that all drones have a certain amount of
error when flying, making it difficult at times to avoid objects. The project aims to
maximize the machine and minimize the effort of human operators.
...“We’re dealing with the human and machine relationship and trying to figure out
obstacle avoidance,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”
...Also, he is working with NASA to develop the best airport approach and takeoff
flight paths for reducing noise created by large, commercial helicopters.
...NASA expects air traffic congestion to continue to increase and foresees a greater
role for helicopters in transporting cargo and in other commercial endeavors.
...“(NASA) is always looking ahead to the future,” Johnson said. “Currently, there is
not a lot of noise abatement on landings and takeoffs. It’s all about traffic flow.”
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