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Total Energy Instrument Gauge for Assisting Pilots in Engine Failure and Gliding Situations

Info: 2695 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 23rd Sep 2019 in Engineering

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The Design, Development and Testing of a Total Energy Instrument Gauge for assisting pilots in engine failure and gliding situations



1.1 Background

1.2 Aim and Objectives


2.1 Work Breakdown Structure

2.2 Resources Required

3. APPENDIX 1: Gantt Chart



1.1 Background

In the fast-moving world of aviation, the cockpit and the avionic systems themselves are becoming more and more advanced and automated in such a way that the pilot himself is in most cases nowadays, the weakest link in the safety of flight in the case of an emergency or very stressful situation.

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In most cases, the Pilot in Command (PIC) needs to take a series of very important decisions as to how to solve the emergency situation in a very short time. The mental workload that pilot is under makes him prone to taking erroneous decisions, making miscalculations and wrong estimations which can ultimately lead to a tragic outcome. A study made by NASA on Aircraft Loss of Control Factors has found Poor Energy Management as being the second most prominent factor in Human Induced loss of control after Improper Training and Manual Handling Errors. Also, in Systems Induced Loss of Control, Poor Energy Management is also the second most important factor, which also can be linked with Propulsion Related issues (such as asymmetric thrust, and energy management). “Energy Management is referred to as the pilot’s knowledge and ability to properly control the combination of the aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, vertical speed and attitude.” (Jacobson, NASA 2010). Inadequate energy management usually results in un-stabilised approaches, which could then potentially lead to inadequate altitude, attitude or airspeed to recover from a Loss of Control event such as a stall. The poor energy management of an aircraft during the flight phases in which the aircraft is relatively close to the ground can most often lead to tragic consequences.

From a statistical point of view, the Flight Safety Foundation Approach-and-landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Task Force performed a research studying 76 approach and landing accidents and serious flight incidents worldwide between 1984 and 1997. The results indicated that un-stabilised approaches were the main casual factor in 66% of the 76 studied flight events. Poor energy management resulted a deficit or excess of energy as follows:

  • In 36 % of the cases, the aircraft on the approach were low/slow (energy deficit)
  • In 30 % of the cases, the aircraft on the approach were high/fast (energy excess)

Improper management of airspeed can further lead to aerodynamic stall or departure from controlled flight. Many loss of control events are linked to the improper airspeed management. Some examples could include inattention to the airspeed changes during approach and landing from which the attempt to recover becomes increasingly difficult as the altitude decreases. (For example, Colgan Air, in January 2009 and Turkish Airlines in February of the same year). Distraction, improper monitoring, sensor errors or failures are part of a wide range of factors that can affect the above-mentioned situations. More importantly, Improper glide angle and glide path control could potentially lead to large control inputs and as a result excessive changes in airspeed which may have a detrimental impact on the accuracy of the landing as the glide path is of critical importance during high precision landings.

A small case study might be the 1957 Blackbushe Viking Accident. The incident occurred on 1st of May 1957 when a Vickers VC.1 Viking 1B crashed down into a forest near the Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire, England. After an apparent suspected engine failure after take-off (EFTO) the aircraft stalled while in a turn and crashed. The events occurred as follows: The aircraft took of at 21:14 and two minutes after take-off, the pilot reported that he has a port engine failure and that he is attempting a left-hand circuit for landing. However, as the aircraft turned onto the approach to land, the aircraft stalled and crashed down into a forested area 1200 yards from the runway. Thirty-four of the thirty-five people that were on board were killed. Here we can observe, as described above, all the details of the causes, particularities and aftermath of poor energy management. It was determined that the cause of the accident was “an error of skill and judgement by the pilot” (News. The Times 1957). Due to the emergency situation, the pilot was under stress and he failed to correctly monitor and keep his airspeed, altitude and attitude in safe limits so that when he was approaching to land on just one engine, he stalled the aircraft and crashed.

Lack of awareness of the degrading energy state of the aircraft is also an important contributor to the statistics relating to crashes linked to poor energy management. The reason for this lack of awareness is not clear and requires more research but speculations and theories as to why this phenomenon takes place include distractions, increased workload, and auto-flight monitoring and warning. For example, the 2009 Turkish Airlines crash mentioned above had occurred due to the failure of an altitude sensor which in its turn caused premature autothrottle mode changes during the approach. The accident happened due to the fact that the experienced pilots did not detect the decreasing airspeed and altitude until the very moment the stall occurred, when it was too late to act in order to amend the situation and regain control of the aircraft.

Therefore, we can observe the fact that the improper human decisions and flawed thinking processes that occur during high stress and workload situations are a very important factor in the occurrence of incorrect energy management of the aircraft which then can lead to flight incidents or crashes. The energy level of the aircraft seems to be something that is either easily overlooked in times of stress or it is simply not detected, pilots detecting the incompatible energy regime of the aircraft only when it is too late to take up on any action to regain control of the aircraft. Distractions, improper monitoring, incorrect glide path angle, lack of awareness of the decreasing energy state of the aircraft or the total failure to detect it, all play a part in the end result which is poor energy management that can lead to crashes. This raises the question though, is it possible to devise a way of making the pilots constantly aware of their energy levels so that they make better judgements in cases of emergency? From the Human Factors point of view, any improvement in the cockpit layout or in the way information is presented to the pilot so that the actual mental workload that he is subject to decreases, is an effective way of improving the pilot`s performance.

In order to address those issues relating the energy management of aircraft, this project will focus on designing, building and testing a Total Energy gauge that will display the level of energy the aircraft has in real time so that the pilot can make better decisions and that he will not need to monitor three instruments at once, comprising the airspeed indicator, the altitude indicator and the attitude indicator into a single gauge that will indicate the Total Energy levels of the aircraft. By maintaining the optimal energy levels and optimal glide path, the pilot can therefore, in theory, be able to better manage situations that might affect the energy level of the aircraft and making sure that he can get the aircraft down to landing safely.

The project that I will undertake will research ways of calculating, and displaying the energy level of the aircraft in such a way that it will aid the pilot. In order to achieve this aim, research will need to be conducted in the human factors field in order to observe what are the main factors that come into play when it comes to information acquisition and what is the appropriate way to design the energy gauge.

1.2 Aim and Objectives

The Aim of this research project is to successfully develop, design and test a Total Energy Gauge to assist the pilots in better managing the energy levels of the aircraft.

The Objectives that are required in order to achieve the aim of the research project are:

1) Research and study the way poor energy management develops and what are its implications in the way a pilot will act so that the appropriate further design decisions can be made. Research the potential of the subject and survey actual pilots to obtain valuable insight into the feasibility of the project

2) Study and develop a formula for the Total Energy and Gliding Range and create the Matlab sourcecode that will calculate them accordingly.

3) Research the Human Factors involved in designing avionic systems and devise all the required features of the future interface of the gauge (layout, colors, sound and pitch range)

4) Develop the interface and display model of the Matlab app and interlink the device with the University FSG Jetstream 41 Simulator for testing and further development.

5) Initiate the test flights with the device and further improve and modify the application according to any required changes or specifications.

6) Perform test flights with and without the device with pilots of all experience levels and gather data about the performance of the pilots with device in a poor energy condition (such as an engine failure)

7) Devise a report on the research project


2.1 Work Breakdown Structure

1. Poor Energy Management (PEM) research and data gathering

As described in the Objectives mentioned earlier, the first work package to be done will be researching poor energy management and its implications, and gathering data about it.

1.1 Research statistics and study aircraft crashes involving PEM

This first task will look into the reasons and particularities of aircraft crashes that involved PEM and will result in obtaining valuable statistics and data for further use as the first deliverables

1.2 Research the factors and particularities that develop PEM

The second research task will look into specialised papers published in the subject by aviation agencies and Aircraft Performance theory in order to understand PEM offset, characteristics and factors that come into play in its development

1.3 Survey real world pilots about their experience with PEM and the feasibility of the project

The third task of this work package is self-explanatory.

2. Matlab Source code development

The second work package will deliver a working piece of software that will calculate the Energy Level and the Gliding Range of the aircraft based on all the relevant parameters.

2.1 Total Energy formula calculation

2.2 Gliding Range formula calculation

The first two tasks of the second work package will deal with Aircraft Performance calculations in order to deliver empiric formulas for the Total Energy and the Gliding Range.

2.3 Matlab encoding of the formulas

The third task will use the previous empirical calculations and developed formulas to create a Matlab source code to calculate particular values of the two mentioned formulas

3. Research of Human Factors involved in avionic systems design

This work package will look at the human limitations and factors that come into play in avionics in order to deliver accurate an adequate and efficient interface for the Device

3.1 Visual qualities and colours research for the layout

3.2 Layout design research

3.3 Acoustic research for acoustic warnings

The three tasks of this work package are self-explanatory

4. Interface design and interlinking with the Simulator

The fourth work package will focus on developing the interface that the pilots will see and that will indicate the previously obtained information to the pilot efficiently. Also, a code to link the app to the simulator to obtain the required data will be established so that the code for the device will be complete.

4.1 Visual Interface Code development

Using the information provided by the previous two working packages this task will create the visual interface.

4.2 Interlink Code development

This task will generate the required code to complete the software, by linking the Simulator to the device so that the program will have all the required variables to calculate all the required parameters for its calculations.

5. Initial flight testing, improvement and modifications of the software

The fifth work package consists in the initial flight tests and trials of the developed software and will also deliver possible modifications and improvements.

5.1 Initial flight trials of the device

The first runs of the application, which serve as accommodation with the interface and fine tuning the source code if necessary

5.2 Possible modifications and improvements

This task will deal with possible modifications and improvements if needed.

5.3 Final flight trials of the device

The final testing of the application, which serve as final verification that the device functions as it should.

6. Flight Testing and Data Gathering

The sixth work package involves the flight testing of the device using pilots in all categories of experience and gathering data about their performance with and without the device

6.1 Flight testing of the device with various subject pilots

This task will consist of multiple test flights in PEM conditions of various pilots with various levels of skill in order to assess their performance with and without the device.

6.2 Data Gathering and Analysis

The second task of the sixth package is the analysis of the results provided by the test flights carried out earlier in order to assess the efficiency of the device.

7 Devise a report on the research project

The last work package will focus on writing and getting all the findings of the research together in a report

3.APPENDIX 1- Gantt Chart


1) Jacobson S.R., NASA, (2010) – “Aircraft Loss of Control: Causal Factors and Mitigation Challenges”, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

2) News. The Times (1957) – “Crash Caused By Pilot’s Error – Viking Came In Too Low On One Engine” London, col E, p. 14.


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