Mission-driven information fusion in Dornier 228 cockpit
by Hendrik Thielemann
When the Dornier 228 was engineered it was ahead of its time. Its revolutionary wing design provided the 19-seat market with brand new capabilities, which are unmatched even today. Huge strides in technological development have occurred since then in the areas of aviation avionics, sensors, communication, data processing and information management. In 2009, when RUAG reintroduced the Dornier 228 to the market, the company picked up on these trends and designed a revolutionary cockpit that was tailored to complex missions – once again, ahead of its time.
Maritime patrolling operations over the North Sea can be among the harshest imaginable, depending upon weather conditions. Patrolling as low as 300 feet above sea level can expose an aircraft to the threat of a bird strike, gray and gloomy twilight, bad visibility, sleet, limited radio navigational aids, and strong winds and gusts; all this makes the North Sea a rough and demanding environment for airborne operations.
Patrolling the North Sea with Dornier 228 aircraft has a long tradition for several reasons: it has a high wing structure that allows all crew members to look out and down; it is very fuel efficient and ideal for long distance missions; and the cabin size accommodates large crews, operator stations and instruments. The Dornier 228 also has a proven track record as a stable platform in adverse weather conditions.
That thing they do
Whatever the environmental conditions or the time of day or night demand, they still have to do their duty. Now, who are they and what is the thing they do? They are, for example, the Dutch Coastguard or the German Navy, who both use their Dornier 228s to help vessels and people in distress, prevent would-be polluters from abusing the environment, and reduce smuggling and counter illegal fishing. And they do this whenever and wherever required. On every mission, they are a team of pilots, operators, observers and a mission commander. As a crew they use visual cues, electronic sensors and navigation and communication equipment to achieve mission success. Every crew member is responsible for their individual task which contributes to the overall mission during every maritime patrol operation over the North Sea.
Images in the Dornier 228 Multirole cockpit being used by the Havariekommando during maritime emergencies over the North Sea.
Information fusion cockpit assists central command during a pollution control mission over the North Sea.
New requirements for information management in maritime patrolling operations over North Sea
This is where crucial information fusion comes into play. An entire mission is only successful if every crew member on board has the same recognized air and sea picture. Information fusion makes this possible by integrating the data generated by each mission task, as measured by the relevant instruments, to produce more consistent, accurate and useful information that creates the same recognized air and sea picture for each and every crew member. And as cockpit technologieshave advanced over the years, coastguard and naval organizations have also wanted to benefit from this capability.
Together with its customers, RUAG developed a new cockpit for their specialized mission needs. One of the key requirements was the ability to share data between the cockpit, the mission operators and the mission commander. The new solution needed to comply with military standards, to significantly increase self-navigation capabilities without the need for ground-based or airborne navigational aids, and to be able to fly in a degraded visual environment (DVE).
A new information fusion concept for Dornier 228 platform
There are many well-known companies providing glass cockpit solutions. The term glass cockpit refers to a cockpit which uses a small number of digital screens that fuse information as opposed to a cockpit with numerous analog instruments. One solutions provider of information fusion, Universal Avionics in Tucson, Arizona, was approached by RUAG and its customers.
Universal’s data and information fusion cockpit solution has some particularly important elements that make it pretty much ideal for the tough requirements of North Sea maritime patrolling operations. Its primary systems, particularly the Flight Management System (FMS) and multi-functional displays (MFDs), provide the right mix of capabilities for the North Sea patrolling operations of institutions such as the Dutch Coastguard or the German Navy. The cockpit capabilities are further enhanced with engine monitoring on a multi-function display, a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), ground proximity warning and integrated radio altimeter, as well as GPS navigation and satellite communication.
Modernizing the Dornier 228
The decision to integrate a new information fusion cockpit into the Dornier 228 aircraft contributed heavily to the Dornier 228 modernization package, which cites more than 300 modifications.
One of the most important outcomes of this modernization program is improved situational awareness for the entire mission crew. All relevant information is fused into the primary flight displays, which are networked with the cabin, thereby simultaneously informing the mission operators as well as the mission commander, while reducing the pilots’ work load. “When on mission, the maritime patrol aircraft crews see all the relevant information at a particular moment of the mission, be this navigation and route information, weather data or other traffic – and all is tailored to each crew member’s needs and all is shown on one display if required,” explains Steffen Gemsa, Chief Test Pilot at the RUAG MRO International site in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, which is home to the Dornier 228.
The new cockpit also has additional benefits. Gemsa explains: “The Dornier 228 information fusion cockpit provides full Performance Based Navigation (PBN) capabilities that guide the aircraft precisely along the desired track – in real life the system shows an actual navigation performance of 0.1 nautical miles or better. Even so-called localizer performance with vertical flight path guidance (LPV) approaches – that is, highly precise GPS-based approaches – are possible. During complex air traffic procedures, in high density traffic areas, the multi-function display brings all the required information together: route, traffic, weather, airports, navigation aids and, if needed, terrain.”
The final step of the transformation: the digital autopilot
The Dornier 228’s Universal information fusion cockpit lays the foundation for the incorporation of an autopilot system. In 2018, RUAG integrated a new digital autopilot system ensuring greater flight safety and efficiency, while further reducing pilot work load. The company began installing Genesis AP4000R autopilots as standard. These devices are fully integrated into the glass cockpit and can access all relevant data.
The digital autopilot makes it possible to pre-select the desired flight altitude after take-off. Then the aircraft flies to the chosen altitude, either at a constant rate of climb or at a constant speed, captures it and levels off automatically. “This feature provides greater safety, especially in heavily frequented airspaces,” explains Gemsa. “Missing flight levels assigned by air traffic control have become a thing of the past, because the autopilot captures and follows a preset altitude precisely,” Gemsa adds.
Positive follow-on effects
Data and information fusion has been an important topic in airborne military operations for a long time. In the past, it has also been a prominent discussion point in civil aviation and in the operation of 19-passenger commuter aircraft. Today, many civil commuter aircraft are equipped with a variety of sensors and instrumentsthat make flying safer for pilots and passengers.
New legal requirements lead to the continuous adding of avionics in cockpits. Consequently, the amount of data in cockpits that pilots have to process has grown significantly. The need to synthesize all this information without the aid of a glass cockpit can pose a challenge to pilots; a challenge to see the big picture, particularly in difficult meteorological conditions. “Today, the number one cause of accidents in civil aviation is that pilots lose situational awareness,” says Steffen Gemsa. “Glass cockpits have made life safer and more comfortable, particularly in situations that are uncommon or which the pilot has never encountered before. Even in these environments a pilot can now perform very difficult flights with confidence,” confirms Gemsa.