Gripen E's WAD Takes Situational Awareness to a Different Level
Gripen E's advanced cockpit which houses the Wide Area Display (WAD) and Head-Up Display (HUD) is the forefront of the aircraft's Human Machine Interface (HMI). Jamie Hunter of The Drive, gives a detailed account of how the intelligent HMI of Gripen reduces the pilot’s workload and supports him with decision making during complex missions.
The advanced sensor and weapon systems of Gripen E are all monitored via the two display systems inside the cockpit. The single WAD, which replaces the three large displays of the older version, presents the pilot with a large panoramic view of a vast area surrounding the aircraft, mission routes, details of other platform, and several other objects in the air and on ground. “The WAD adds huge possibilities for the pilot regarding situational awareness and the ability to act on it,” Saab Gripen E test pilot Robin Nordlander told Hunter.
The touchscreen functionality of the WAD comes with its own set of perks. Most of the time, the pilot likes to change the map scaling depending on his interest in a particular region, which can now be achieved by a touch on the screen. The situational awareness can be further enhanced by overlaying one or several maps of selected areas and zoom level, which helps the pilot to monitor more than one map simultaneously. However, Nordlander adds that at times, the touch functions may or may not be used, and instead, the pilot will want to use Hand-On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS), push a button, or turn a knob. To take care of this requirement, Gripen E’s WAD doesn’t offer functionalities only via touch.
The Gripen cockpit also compliments the WAD and Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) with the Head-Up-Display (HUD). The HUD is a transparent display that presents data without taking away the pilot's attention from the main viewpoints. "Unlike with the F-35s, we preferred the redundancy of the large HUD and the HMD together in the Gripen," says Nordlander. This is because, sometimes, the pilots may want to fly without the HMD. For such times, the fighter has the HUD for the pilot to solely rely on, even without the HMD. That way, Gripen E offers choice as well.
The Human Machine Interface (HMI) in Gripen is a product of evolution over the years. It is designed to select and present only the critical information to the pilot. Information such as the engine RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) or fuel-tank indicator are not shown unless they are required. "If the system is working perfectly well, it won't tell the pilot anything. We have automated a lot of the functionality in the system. This is a huge step forward in terms of performance, and how we use the system," says Nordlander.
The pilot can also decide on the level of automation they want in the HMI depending on the situation. This means the pilot has the choice to function the systems manually or in semi-automatic or fully automatic modes. "The pilot can decide if they want to monitor and manage everything, select to approve or reject suggestions from the system, or do what is best according to the system. This information is presented via symbols on displays, by sounds, or by speech messages, depending on the mode. Essentially, we are trying to make it as easy as possible for the pilot to make critical tactical decisions,” explains Nordlander.
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