Pilot's Guide to Avionics 2016-2017 - 33
Ian Johnson flies a Beech 350 simulator at the Cockpit Simulation Center at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Johnson
is a human factors researcher in the FAA's NextGen Aviation Weather Division's Weather Technology in the Cockpit program.
Weather information that is easy to miss
Today, Johnson is cruising along at 3,500 feet, demonstrating how a VFR pilot sees important weather
information on glass cockpit displays . The focus is on
METAR symbols that change color when the destination airport goes from VFR to IFR conditions . The
METAR acronym roughly translates from the French
as Aviation Routine Weather Report, and this type of
weather observation is taken at the end of each hour .
This is vital information for VFR-only pilots who do
not want to fly into clouds or fog on the way to their
destinations . This could result in loss of control of the
aircraft, which could be fatal . The displays used in the
simulator studies are those currently on the market,
and the manner in which they present weather information to the pilot varies a great deal .
METAR symbols also show what the weather
is like at the alternate airports . During Johnson's
short flight, the symbols start to change from blue
to yellow, depicting which airports now have IFR
rather than VFR weather . It is all too easy to miss
the change in color depending on the presentation .
This is particularly true for a single pilot who is
multitasking, scanning for other traffic out the window
while also checking for other information, not just
weather information, when glancing down to scan the
instrument panel .
Ulf Ahlstrom, FAA NextGen engineering research psychologist, in front of
a general aviation simulator.
During the experiments, many of the volunteer
pilots do miss the changes and continue on when
they should be thinking about heading for an alternate
airport or making a decision to turn around and fly
another day . These lost decision-making windows
point to gaps in displays that FAA researchers plan to
highlight in reports on these simulator sessions . The
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