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August 15, 2014

Flying around thunderstorms with Honeywell's 3-D radar

Flying into Dallas/Fort Worth Airport or Dallas Love Field can be challenging for pilots in the spring and summer, when thunderstorms can pop up in minutes.

But Honeywell’s IntuVue 3-D radar system, which the company showed off at Love Field on Wednesday, makes it easier for pilots to avoid the thunderheads and land safely.

“We can show them there is weather below the aircraft so if he’s going to descend he knows ahead of time if there is weather on his flight path,” said Greg Schauder, Honeywell’s director of product marketing.

The system, which has been available in commercial aircraft since 2006, was recently upgraded to let pilots know where there is lightning and hail inside the storm systems. And instead of showing pilots a two-dimensional rendering, pilots can see a 3-D image of storms as far ahead as 320 nautical miles and anywhere from 0 to 60,000 feet in altitude.

 Since the radar system continually updates automatically, pilots no longer need to manually tilt the radar to find storms that may form suddenly. Passengers are also more likely to have a smoother ride even when there is bad weather, said Honeywell’s test pilot, Markus Johnson.

“They will get where they’re going without as many delays or diversions around bad weather because the pilots will be able to find the best route the most efficient way,” Johnson said after demonstrating the radar system on a flight that maneuvered around storms in the Gulf.

All of the new Boeing 737 aircraft being acquired by Southwest Airlines has the Honeywell system installed. The airline has partnered with Honeywell to test new features of the radar system.

“When we added the new hail features and put them on their system, Southwest worked with us to evaluate it,” Schauder said.

The system is standard on all of Airbus’ double-decker A380 aircraft. Emirates Airline and Qantas Airways will both begin flying the A380 into DFW later this fall. It also will be standard on the A350, which is still in development. American Airlines has that aircraft on order.

 While the system can be retrofitted onto older aircraft, Schauder said it is expensive and most airlines choose to have it installed when they order a plane. Once the system is in the plane, Honeywell is able to upgrade the software to add features like lightning and hail detection.

It is working on a new feature to detect ice crystals at 30,000 feet that sometimes cause engine problems for commercial aircraft. Schauder said the company hopes to have the new upgrade available in 2017.

“We are trying to take the work load off the pilot to make it a safer flight and a more efficient flight,” Schauder said.

-Andrea Ahles


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