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Flight Management Systems (FMS)

in Flight Instruments

In the mid-1970s, visionaries in the avionics industry such as Hubert Naimer of Universal, and followed by others such as Ed King, Jr., were looking to advance the technology of aircraft navigation. As early as 1976, Naimer had a vision of a “Master Navigation System” that would accept inputs from a variety of different types of sensors on an aircraft and automatically provide guidance throughout all phases of flight.

At that time aircraft navigated over relatively short distances with radio systems, principally VOR or ADF. For long-range flight inertial navigation systems (INS), Omega, Doppler, and Loran were in common use. Short-range radio systems usually did not provide area navigation capability. Longrange systems were only capable of en route point-to-point navigation between manually entered waypoints described as longitude and latitude coordinates, with typical systems containing a limited number of waypoints.

The laborious process of manually entering cryptic latitude and longitude data for each flight waypoint created high crew workloads and frequently resulted in incorrect data entry. The requirement of a separate control panel for each long-range system consumed precious flight deck space and increased the complexity of interfacing the systems with display instruments, flight directors, and autopilots.

The concept employed a master computer interfaced with all of the navigation sensors on the aircraft. A common control display unit (CDU) interfaced with the master computer would provide the pilot with a single control point for all navigation systems, thereby reducing the number of required flight deck panels. Management of the various individual sensors would be transferred from the pilot to the new computer.

Since navigation sensors rarely agree exactly about position, Naimer believed that blending all available sensor position data through a highly sophisticated, mathematical filtering system would produce a more accurate aircraft position. He called the process output the “Best Computed Position.” By using all available sensors to keep track of position, the system could readily provide area navigation capability. The master computer, not the individual sensors, would be integrated into the airplane, greatly reducing wiring complexity.

To solve the problems of manual waypoint entry, a preloaded database of global navigation information would be readily accessible by the pilot through the CDU. Using such a system a pilot could quickly and accurately construct a flight plan consisting of dozens of waypoints, avoiding the tedious typing of data and the error potential of latitude/ longitude coordinates. Rather than simply navigating point-to- point, the master system would be able to maneuver the aircraft, permitting use of the system for terminal procedures including departures, arrivals, and approaches. The system would be able to automate any aspect of manual pilot navigation of the aircraft. When the first system, called the UNS-1, was released by Universal in 1982, it was called a flight management system (FMS). [Figure 3-44]

Figure 3-44. A Control Display Unit (CDU) Used to Control the Flight Management System.

Figure 3-44. A Control Display Unit (CDU) Used to Control the Flight Management System.

An FMS uses an electronic database of worldwide navigational data including navigation aids, airways and intersections, Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs), Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs), and Instrument Approach Procedures (IAPs) together with pilot input through a CDU to create a flight plan. The FMS provides outputs to several aircraft systems including desired track, bearing and distance to the active waypoint, lateral course deviation and related data to the flight guidance system for the HSI displays, and roll steering command for the autopilot/flight director system. This allows outputs from the FMS to command the airplane where to go and when and how to turn. To support adaptation to numerous aircraft types, an FMS is usually capable of receiving and outputting both analog and digital data and discrete information. Currently, electronic navigation databases are updated every 28 days.

The introduction of the Global Positioning System (GPS) has provided extremely precise position at low cost, making GPS the dominant FMS navigation sensor today. Currently, typical FMS installations require that air data and heading information be available electronically from the aircraft. This limits FMS usage in smaller aircraft, but emerging technologies allow this data from increasingly smaller and less costly systems.

Some systems interface with a dedicated Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) receiver channel under the control of the FMS to provide an additional sensor. In these systems, the FMS determines which DME sites should be interrogated for distance information using aircraft position and the navigation database to locate appropriate DME sites. The FMS then compensates aircraft altitude and station altitude with the aid of the database to determine the precise distance to the station. With the distances from a number of sites the FMS can compute a position nearly as accurately as GPS.

Aimer visualized three-dimensional aircraft control with an FMS. Modern systems provide Vertical Navigation (VNAV) as well as Lateral Navigation (LNAV) allowing the pilot to create a vertical flight profile synchronous with the lateral flight plan. Unlike early systems, such as Inertial Reference Systems (IRS) that were only suitable for en route navigation, the modern FMS can guide an aircraft during instrument approaches.

Today, an FMS provides not only real-time navigation capability but typically interfaces with other aircraft systems providing fuel management, control of cabin briefing and display systems, display of uplinked text and graphic weather data and air/ground data link communications.

Electronic Flight Instrument Systems

Modern technology has introduced into aviation a new method of displaying flight instruments, such as electronic flight instrument systems, integrated flight deck displays, and others. For the purpose of the practical test standards, any flight instrument display that utilizes LCD or picture tube like displays is referred to as “electronic flight instrument display” and/or a glass flight deck. In general aviation there is typically a primary flight display (PFD) and a multi-function display (MFD). Although both displays are in many cases identical, the PFD provides the pilot instrumentation necessary for flight to include altitude, airspeed, vertical velocity, attitude, heading and trim and trend information.

Glass flight decks (a term coined to describe electronic flight instrument systems) are becoming more widespread as cost falls and dependability continually increases. These systems provide many advantages such as being lighter, more reliable, no moving parts to wear out, consuming less power, and replacing numerous mechanical indicators with a single glass display. Because the versatility offered by glass displays is much greater than that offered by analog displays, the use of such systems will only increase with time until analog systems are eclipsed.


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