Pilot's Guide to Avionics 2016-2017 - 34
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findings will guide both the FAA safety organization
and private-sector cockpit display designers on how
to make the presentation of weather information more
consistent and effective .
Doing this type of research is exactly what Johnson,
who also is a general aviation pilot, had in mind
when he graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University with a master's degree in aeronautical
science focused on human factors in aviation systems .
He also earned his bachelor's degree at Embry-Riddle
in human factors psychology and a second master's
degree in aeronautical science in aviation/aerospace
safety systems .
These degrees provide a perfect foundation for what
Johnson is doing now with WTIC . The WTIC program
is part of a wide-ranging effort by the FAA's NextGen
Aviation Weather Division to ensure critical weather
information is ready for the NextGen era .
Identifying targets for NextGen weather research
is a matter of finding gaps in the flow and use of
information and making a determination on whether
fixing the gap will improve operational efficiency,
safety or reduce environmental impact in the national
airspace system . The benefits can be for commercial,
general aviation or business aviation aircraft operators .
Helping VFR pilots avoid flying into IMC by having the
right weather information is a high priority .
"Half of general aviation weather-related accidents
that result in fatalities are due to limited visibility,"
said Gary Pokodner, WTIC program manager . "If we
can show that pilots have a lack of the right weather
information, we can fill that gap ." Since graduating
from Lehigh University as an electrical engineer,
Pokodner worked in design, reliability, development,
test and acquisition of avionics at ARINC for 25 years
before joining the FAA in 2011 to work on aviation
weather research .
One significant issue that the NextGen WTIC
team is addressing is the misunderstanding among
pilots about the capabilities and limitations of Next
Generation Weather Radar graphic displays they use
in the cockpit .
NEXRAD is a great long-range, strategic
planning tool that should be used by pilots only for
avoiding hazardous weather areas such as lines
of thunderstorms . The mistake pilots often make is
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looking at NEXRAD depictions of storms nearby and
assuming the picture presented is real time . Since it
takes time to process NEXRAD data and then transmit
it to the cockpit, the picture a pilot sees can be 5
to 20 minutes old . This is significant because new
thunderstorm cells can form in a matter of minutes and
create hazardous conditions .
The WTIC program is working with the Partnership
to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and
Sustainability, an FAA-sponsored Center of Excellence,
to address the issue of latency in weather graphics
displayed in the cockpit . The PEGASAS group is
a consortium of aviation universities that performs
general aviation research under an overall FAA grant .
PEGASAS is developing a latency trainer, a tabletop device to train pilots on this critical safety subject .
The trainer will be used in the Weather Information
Latency Demonstration research project to examine
how latencies in the display of weather information
affect a general aviation pilot's ability to detect important
weather events, plan a response and avoid hazardous
conditions . In addition, vendors that manufacture
flight training devices, including flight simulators, may
incorporate WILD concepts into their designs .
The WILD trainer has the capability to provide
latency of any time interval specified to enable
demonstration of the potential hazards .
Since thunderstorms can build rapidly, using
NEXRAD to navigate near storms can lead to a
fatal encounter with a cumulonimbus cloud . WTIC
researchers also have found that few pilots can
accurately judge how far they are away from that cloud
even when they can see it . What can be seen out the
windscreen may be a lot closer than it appears . In fact,
pilots are often only 5 miles from a storm cloud when
they think they are safe at 20 miles or more away .
"There are no markers in a cloud to tell you how far
you are away from it," Johnson said .
Research findings may lead to better displays
Most VFR pilots who don't have an instrument
rating know that stumbling into the clouds or a fog
can lead to a loss-of-control accident that could have
fatal consequences . Anything in the cockpit that
warns a pilot of weather changing from VFR to IFR
ahead could be a lifesaver .
The WTIC team is working closely with Ulf
Ahlstrom, an FAA NextGen engineering research
psychologist, who designed the VFR into IMC
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