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Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Discussion about creating 2d and 3d cockpits.

Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby openflight » Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:49 am

This is a personal research project into the improvement of aircraft flight instruments.

The purpose of posting details here is to get some feedback from users and sim pilots.

Some background here:

viewtopic.php?f=14&t=37579
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Re: Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby openflight » Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:55 am

What I posted earlier:

Aircraft cockpits are becoming more and more automated, and the use of display screens instead of 'steam gauges' lands the design of flight instruments directly in the path of user interface design.

There is some evidence that the current set of glass panels leave something to be desired in usability and readability. I personally dislike them.

Fighter cockpits are no better. I see a whole range of instruments, all white on black, all with confusing movements of needles (altimeter misreading has caused at least one crash or is suspected of it) that hark back to the days of ships and steam engines.

The old way seemed to be to place a large marked card with a needle pointer. Fine for a barometer at home. Good for a car travelling at 60 kmh. In a busy cockpit with many people shooting at you I am not sure that this is the best thing. For a pilot who is tired, or injured, I can only speculate.

My work will mainly be about my simulator flying and how I see instruments, possibly this could be related to real life, but that is the nature of research.

To quote the software standards for UI (BTW has anyone got any links to reference material I could look at?)

Visibility of system status. Users should always be informed of system operations with easy to understand and highly visible status displayed on the screen within a reasonable amount of time.

Match between system and the real world. Designers should endeavor to mirror the language and concepts users would find in the real world based on who their target users are. Presenting information in logical order and piggybacking on user’s expectations derived from their real-world experiences will reduce cognitive strain and make systems easier to use.

User control and freedom. Offer users a digital space where backward steps are possible, including undoing and redoing previous actions.

Consistency and standards. Interface designers should ensure that both the graphic elements and terminology are maintained across similar platforms. For example, an icon that represents one category or concept should not represent a different concept when used on a different screen.

Error prevention. Whenever possible, design systems so that potential errors are kept to a minimum. Users do not like being called upon to detect and remedy problems, which may on occasion be beyond their level of expertise. Eliminating or flagging actions that may result in errors are two possible means of achieving error prevention.

Recognition rather than recall. Minimize cognitive load by maintaining task-relevant information within the display while users explore the interface. Human attention is limited and we are only capable of maintaining around five items in our short-term memory at one time. Due to the limitations of short-term memory, designers should ensure users can simply employ recognition instead of recalling information across parts of the dialogue. Recognizing something is always easier than recall because recognition involves perceiving cues that help us reach into our vast memory and allowing relevant information to surface. For example, we often find the format of multiple choice questions easier than short answer questions on a test because it only requires us to recognize the answer rather than recall it from our memory.
Flexibility and efficiency of use. With increased use comes the demand for less interactions that allow faster navigation. This can be achieved by using abbreviations, function keys, hidden commands and macro facilities. Users should be able to customize or tailor the interface to suit their needs so that frequent actions can be achieved through more convenient means.

Aesthetic and minimalist design. Keep clutter to a minimum. All unnecessary information competes for the user's limited attentional resources, which could inhibit user’s memory retrieval of relevant information. Therefore, the display must be reduced to only the necessary components for the current tasks, whilst providing clearly visible and unambiguous means of navigating to other content.

Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors. Designers should assume users are unable to understand technical terminology, therefore, error messages should almost always be expressed in plain language to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.

Help and documentation. Ideally, we want users to navigate the system without having to resort to documentation. However, depending on the type of solution, documentation may be necessary. When users require help, ensure it is easily located, specific to the task at hand and worded in a way that will guide them through the necessary steps towards a solution to the issue they are facing.



https://www.interaction-design.org/lite ... s-of-thumb
Last edited by openflight on Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby openflight » Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:04 am

Initial testing with the Mirage 2000 and 2D panel was an immediate success. I added markers for the maximum gear extension speed and the approach speed. Apart from marking these speeds, the markers provided placeholders to judge the rate of reduction of airspeed with throttle changes, enabling me to respond quickly and land well. There was some confidence that banking at speeds above the approach speed would not stall the aircraft.

An unexpected benefit was the tagging of an error with the altimeter - the altimeter was getting stuck at 1000 ft on the way down which resulted in some low flying adventures earlier on. I had to use the HUD altimeter display. A faulty altimeter, how realistic.

All this with some colored paint marks costing nothing, visible here: (scroll down)

https://sites.google.com/site/flightgea ... ly-version

Image
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Re: Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby openflight » Mon Jun 22, 2020 1:05 am

Let's see how the existing display measures up according to the standard (in my view). Airliner displays are much nicer and better I think for GA as well as fighter aircraft.

Visibility of system status. Users should always be informed of system operations with easy to understand and highly visible status displayed on the screen within a reasonable amount of time.


The primary instruments in general are less than optimal in several respects. Uniform white markers on black backgrounds are used. There are no markings of critical speeds on some instruments, although the Cessna 172 has a green arc, white arc region. The markings on my version of the instruments in the M2000 gave a significant boost to readability. It is easy to read - actually notice is a better term and a better practice, instruments should be noticed rather than read. There are several other shortcomings:

- Thousands are not separated by commas. Would you use your spreadsheet this way, without the thousands markers?
- There is a delay in instrument display, while this cannot be corrected, the delay should be printed on the instrument if constant
-Colors need to be used for higher visibility
- Digital readouts should change without rolling up on a ticker tape - this was fine for car speedometers, and had no problem reading 55 rather than _5 or something in between
-ASI read from top to bottom and back again, the speedometer style reading is more natural and actually used on some GA aircraft
-All markings could be larger, I actually need to try this with displaying instrument real size on my computer and trying to read them

There are many more



Match between system and the real world. Designers should endeavour to mirror the language and concepts users would find in the real world based on who their target users are. Presenting information in logical order and piggybacking on user’s expectations derived from their real-world experiences will reduce cognitive strain and make systems easier to use.


An ASI in a car speedometer format is one possible improvement, as mentioned. Real world. The other comments also apply, many of these are new pilots anyway so they will be more comfortable with displays that look like real world displays.

User control and freedom. Offer users a digital space where backward steps are possible, including undoing and redoing previous actions.


This may apply to having a set of instruments settings that could be undone.

Consistency and standards. Interface designers should ensure that both the graphic elements and terminology are maintained across similar platforms. For example, an icon that represents one category or concept should not represent a different concept when used on a different screen.


The standard T instrument layout was a step in this direction, in modern fighters the middle of the panel is occupied by a large, dumb HUD control and the radar, but the SU 37 has a central AI, unlike many of its counterparts.

Error prevention. Whenever possible, design systems so that potential errors are kept to a minimum. Users do not like being called upon to detect and remedy problems, which may on occasion be beyond their level of expertise. Eliminating or flagging actions that may result in errors are two possible means of achieving error prevention.


Readability will reduce errors.

Recognition rather than recall. Minimize cognitive load by maintaining task-relevant information within the display while users explore the interface. Human attention is limited and we are only capable of maintaining around five items in our short-term memory at one time. Due to the limitations of short-term memory, designers should ensure users can simply employ recognition instead of recalling information across parts of the dialogue. Recognizing something is always easier than recall because recognition involves perceiving cues that help us reach into our vast memory and allowing relevant information to surface. For example, we often find the format of multiple choice questions easier than short answer questions on a test because it only requires us to recognize the answer rather than recall it from our memory.


Combining air speed, height and pitch information in one instrument is a good idea, but some improvements are needed.

Flexibility and efficiency of use. With increased use comes the demand for less interactions that allow faster navigation. This can be achieved by using abbreviations, function keys, hidden commands and macro facilities. Users should be able to customize or tailor the interface to suit their needs so that frequent actions can be achieved through more convenient means.


More applicable to programmable interfaces..

Aesthetic and minimalist design. Keep clutter to a minimum. All unnecessary information competes for the user's limited attentional resources, which could inhibit user’s memory retrieval of relevant information. Therefore, the display must be reduced to only the necessary components for the current tasks, whilst providing clearly visible and unambiguous means of navigating to other content.


An aircraft panel is a prime example of clutter, at least the older ones. So what are the necessary components for current tasks?

Picture a blank screen. Now what would the pilot want to know?

-roll angle / wings level
-pitch angle
-direction
-altitude
-altitude over nearest obstructions
-fuel remaining and reachable airports with that fuel
-All warnings.

Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors. Designers should assume users are unable to understand technical terminology, therefore, error messages should almost always be expressed in plain language to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.


-A notice about pitch angle limitations at low altitudes, and roll limitations, after having an accident in the FG T-38, as a novice, this would have helped.

Help and documentation. Ideally, we want users to navigate the system without having to resort to documentation. However, depending on the type of solution, documentation may be necessary. When users require help, ensure it is easily located, specific to the task at hand and worded in a way that will guide them through the necessary steps towards a solution to the issue they are facing.


This is one area where a hyperlinked document on a digital screen would help all pilots in emergencies, faster than turning pages, possibly, as an alternative, FG could implement physical paper notes as well.
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Re: Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby Johan G » Mon Jul 06, 2020 7:47 pm

openflight wrote in Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:49 am:[...] improvement of aircraft flight instruments.

This is actually a quite big and interesting research field, complete with trends and things that was very popular for a while and then fizzed out.

Getting slightly off topic...

One interesting and sometimes overlooked aspect of the flight instruments is that the pilot in fact is a part of the control loop. Therefore the way data is presented will have an affect on the handling qualities of an aircraft. In some research papers they talk about both flight control laws vs. display control laws, the latter in essence being the parameters and algorithms that drive for example the symbology on the head up display.

Here are a couple of research papers related that to skim through:


More off topic, but related to flight testing, I can also highly recommend (as that system still 51 years later still is in use, and also is referenced in the first of the two above):

Basically one decides on a specific task during a specific flight phase, and a tolerable interval for the pilot to keep within. This could for example be to keep the aircraft within a satisfactory vertical speed interval on final approach, say 50 to 100 ft/min. Depending on how difficult it was for the pilot to keep within those limits he would rate how the aircraft handled during the task on a 10 point scale. A 1 for this task would indicate that no effort would be required and a 10 that the aircraft is practically uncontrollable.
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Re: Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby openflight » Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:31 pm

Thanks, looks like some interesting reading ahead for me.

I just started up FG 2018 and took off in the CH 701. The flat panel display was quite a shock to me, in real life it is probably big enough, but those small numbers with a whizzing last digit and no pointers to gauge (!) speeds and trends - it really threw me off. If I have time I will replace all with round dials with a marker for minimum speeds on the ASI.

What always worried me about aircraft handling was with the new flight control software, there may be an untested scenario that will really mess the plane up if you get into that situation. One particular jet fighter has had software problems for a long time. Software failures are not so easily reproducible, maybe some sort of a failsafe where the system reverts to a manual-like control system would be good. I wonder how far a simulator like FG can help debug real control systems.

Some glass panels are better than others, in my opinion, the ones on airliners are really nice (737, Airbus 340 etc). Why not just copy them.
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Re: Improving aircraft instrument panels - some concepts

Postby Hooray » Sat Jul 25, 2020 5:26 pm

Note that the subsystem dealing with 2D panels/instrumentation is currently in the process of being reworked to use native OSG code instead of raw low level/fixed function OpenGL code.

This won't affect you if you are using an old/recent release, but future versions of FlightGear will increasingly replace legacy OpenGL code with a Canvas based re-implementation to improve compatibility with modern OpenGL code, and basically to help improve performance - while also using a subset of OpenGL to better support embedded/mobile devices.

Given the nature of these changes, it's also increasingly likely that it would be possible to literally drag&drop instruments onto a panel and resize them at runtime, simply because the Canvas system as a whole is property driven. For a list of recent commits, refer to: https://sourceforge.net/u/gallaert/flig ... 7fec4bc64/

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