Operating Your FMS On-line

By David Jensen | December 1, 2000
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You are a commercial pilot with a layover. You’ve checked into a hotel and have some time to kill. You could watch television or read a book. Or you can practice the use of the flight management system (FMS) that is in your aircraft.

That’s right. By simply opening up your Pentium PC laptop and logging on to the Internet, you actually can practice FMS use, much like being in a flight simulator.

Such a service is about to be made available to operators of the Honeywell FMS, courtesy of the Pilot Internet Practice Service (IPS). Thomson Training and Simulation assisted Honeywell in developing the on-line FMS procedures trainer, initially for pilots of the Airbus 320 and Boeing 767. The system recently has been alpha tested. Honeywell plans to launch this service by first quarter 2001.

The Pilot IPS, designed for the air transport market, follows Honeywell’s issuance of an FMS trainer in CD-Rom format, aimed at the corporate and commuter airline markets. But while the CD-Rom allows practice on the FMS only, the Pilot IPS includes graphics of the entire cockpit, making it as close to a flight simulator as a Web-based service can be.

Retargeting Software Code

Over about a year’s time, Thomson developed the initial Pilot IPS by retargeting the software code in the Honeywell FMS to create the simulation. The retargeting process can progress to various levels, according to Mike Sharp, Honeywell’s specialist for simulation and CBT (computer based training) support. For example, the Honeywell FMS code–including the Ada, Pascal, C++, and some machine code language–can be retargeted for use in a full flight simulator, or it can be set up for desktop operation, with a PC. For the Pilot IPS, the code was installed on a proprietary card that resides on an Internet server at Honeywell.

The Pilot IPS program runs on Honeywell’s server. To download the program, pilots will need a laptop with:

  • 350 MHz Pentium II computer;

  • 64 megs of RAM;

  • 10 megs of available hard disk space;

  • 1024-by-768-by-16 million color resolution;

  • 28.8 baud modem; and

  • Internet access.

The first time a pilot uses Pilot IPS, he or she must download a two-meg file, which presents the cockpit graphics. Beyond the A320 and B767, Honeywell plans to develop cockpit graphics for all commonly flown airliners, according to Don Stylinski, Honeywell’s business manager-simulation and training support.

With the cockpit graphics on his/her hard drive, the pilot is now ready to log on. He/she pays for the Pilot IPS service by either inputting a credit card number or, if an account exists with his/her employer/airline, a personal identification number (PIN). Honeywell anticipates the latter procedure will be preferred by airlines because it would be more economical; the more a customer uses Pilot IPS, the lower the per-hour cost for its use. Once logged on, the pilot is initially presented several sections: an introduction to the service, instructions on how to use it, answers to frequently asked questions, a pilots resource page, etc.

In simulation mode, the service will first present an image of all displays on the cockpit panel. With the click of a mouse, a particular system can be enlarged and presented in a "window." Sharp demonstrates this procedure for Avionics Magazine during a recent visit to the headquarters of Honeywell Aerospace Electronic Systems. He creates an enlarged image of a control display unit (CDU).

"You can move these [windows] around," Sharp says, continuing his demonstration. "But as you ‘fly,’ you will see everything work. You see the altitude adjust, the flight control panel, the EFIS [electronic flight instrument system] control panel, the throttles, landing gear, brakes, the MCDU [multifunction control display unit]–everything you need to sit down and start, and fly the aircraft."

All inputs to the simulated panel are made with the mouse. Icons (right arrow, left arrow) on the laptop screen will be shown so that the pilot can make, say, altitude changes. Or, for a push/pull button, a left click can push the button and right click can pull it. An explanation on how to interface with the laptop during simulation appears on a computer page, which can be printed out in PDF format (for engineering-style documents) for pilot reference.

Once the simulation is completed, the Pilot IPS provides a detailed printout of the service’s use, including log-in and log-out times, the pilot’s name, aircraft, nav database used, and time on-line. The pilot then simply logs out and returns to the book he was reading.

All efforts are made to make Pilot IPS’ simulation as true to life as possible. In addition to the FMS code, Honeywell provides the navigational data base (along with Jeppeson data) that the customer/airline agrees to provide. For enhanced reality, the on-line simulation also was designed to respond to commands as fast as the aircraft’s flight management computer.

The Pilot IPS allows pilots to practice "the whole system of flight, from the time they get into a cockpit and start their initialization process on the [flight management] computer itself," says Sharp. "Then they can pull up the image of throttles, run the throttles up by clicking on them, and watch the speed come up on the [display’s] speed tape."

The pilots can make route changes on the FMS, and [the changes] will be shown on the nav display, he adds. When a pilot initiates a rotation or turn, the simulated panel display will "show the heading change, the whole works," Sharp continues. "They can watch the plane rotate, set the flaps. They can do all these things within the different windows and then [upon completing a task] close the window out."

The Benefits

For pilots and airlines, the Pilot IPS offers various benefits. Most important, perhaps, is that by becoming more proficient with their FMS, pilots will be able to fly head-up more, and not head-down, trying to determine what buttons to push and how to make a route change.

Such proficiency could prove handy for those pilots who use their FMS infrequently. "They may not make changes to the flight management system for three or four flights," says Sharp, referring to the common routine among commercial pilots. "Then, all of a sudden, they’ve got an ATC [air traffic control] message that says, ‘now make this change.’ So the more time pilots get to practice the [FMS] procedures, the quicker they can make those changes."

In addition, pilots can prepare for their check flight using Pilot IPS. With their airline’s nav database included in the service, they can rehearse for an upcoming flight, as well. "Let’s say I’ve got three hours before my next flight," says Sharp. "I can practice for that flight before I enter the cockpit."

"I foresee the airlines using Pilot IPS to practice flying approaches," Stylinski adds. In this case, the airline would provide its approach plates, and now Pilot IPS could be used to test and improve approaches.

"Also, pilots can give us all the information for a particular flight regime," Stylinski adds. The data would serve as a test platform. "[Honeywell test pilots] then can simulate the inputs to see if what happened [with the FMS] is a normal operation and an exception in the system. This saves the pilot’s time of explaining to us the complete flight regime."

For airlines, the Pilot IPS can be a money saver, especially in reducing the amount of time their pilots need to be in a costly, full flight simulator. "When pilots get in the actual simulator, they want to fly, not just push buttons," says Sharp.

Honeywell officials choose to not call the Pilot IPS a training device, as it was not developed for students. Rather, they see it as a practice tool, for pilots already quite familiar with the Honeywell flight management system. "It’s not designed to teach you how to work the buttons," Sharp says.

"It’s a tool to increase proficiency," Stylinski injects. "It will expand the pilot’s familiarity with the system."

Wicat’s Answer to On-Line Training

Aviation training on-line is becoming as wide spread as the Internet itself. In October, for example, Lindon, Utah-based Wicat Systems Inc. said it planned to make available an aviation training portal on the Internet. The portal will provide flight management system (FMS) training on-line–but that is just the beginning, according to Wicat’s vice president in charge of marketing, Michael Plante.

The company intends to place on its Website,, much of the computer-based training (CBT) packages it now provides on CD-Rom. This includes everything from cabin attendant training on specific aircraft to instruction on dangerous goods handling, as well as flight training packages.

Wicat’s full cockpit trainers will not be on the Internet, however, services will be made available, such as industry news, worldwide weather reports, chat and e-mail, and an aviation industry book store. In the future, Wicat plans to add to its site Web-based simulation products, plus live, instructor-led training broadcasts, just-in-time training solutions, and up-to-the-minute reference material.

FMS training will be provided on-line for a wide variety of specific aircraft types, including the MD-11 and MD-80 and the new Boeing 717, as well as business jets. Plante says the nav data base will be generic, but through customer agreements, Wicat can make an airline’s database available to its pilots exclusively.

Regarding the training service’s cost, Plante says Wicat plans to charge on an individual basis, although arrangements with airlines or flight schools can be made. The company plans to charge individuals less than $100 a year, for which all training systems on Wicat’s Website will be made available.

Last May, at the World Air Transport Training Conference and Trade Show, in Frankfurt, Germany, Wicat announced that it would build the training portal. The company’s CBT on CD-Rom has been acquired by some 60 airlines worldwide.

Wicat is a division of France-based Faros SA.

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