The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent out a press release yesterday saying that it had "adopted a study concluding that single engine airplanes equipped with glass cockpits had no better overall safety record than airplanes with conventional instrumentation."

This was counter to what the NTSB had expected to find.

Quoting from the release,

"The safety study, which was adopted unanimously by the Safety Board, was initiated more than a year ago to determine if light airplanes equipped with digital primary flight displays, often referred to as "glass cockpits," were inherently safer than those equipped with conventional instruments.

The study, which looked at the accident rates of over 8,000 small piston-powered airplanes manufactured between 2002 and 2006, found that those equipped with glass cockpits had a higher fatal accident rate then similar aircraft with conventional instruments.

The Safety Board determined that because glass cockpits are both complex and vary from aircraft to aircraft in function, design and failure modes, pilots are not always provided with all of the information they need - both by aircraft manufacturers and the Federal Aviation Administration - to adequately understand the unique operational and functional details of the primary flight instruments in their airplanes."

Nearly all newly manufactured piston-powered light airplanes are equipped with digital primary flight displays, the NTSB says, and older aircraft are increasingly becoming retrofitted with them as well.

Improved training is seen as a key to gaining the benefits of these improved displays.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman is quoted in the press release as saying, "The data tell us that equipment-specific training will save lives. To that end, we have adopted recommendations today responsive to that data - recommendations on pilot knowledge testing standards, training, simulators, documentation and service difficulty reporting so that the potential safety improvements that these systems provide can be realized by the general aviation pilot community."

The full NTSB study will be released in a few weeks. When it does, I will post more of its details.

As a side note, IEEE Spectrum senior editor William Sweet wrote about the issues of introducing glass cockpits into commercial airliners in this 1995 Spectrum article.

The Conversation (0)

Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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