Commercial, Regulatory, Safety

FAA EZ Fly Demonstrator Intended to Improve Urban Mobility Safety

By Frank Wolfe | December 7, 2018
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NASA Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge

Image courtesy of NASA

The FAA's EZ Fly Aircraft and Demonstrator project to simplify piloting of small aircraft and reduce general aviation accidents will influence the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) concept, the agency said.

The EZ Fly concept "will influence UAM by providing an example of a human/aircraft interface strategy that makes future aircraft safer and more intuitive to control," the FAA said in a written response to questions from Rotor & Wing International.  "This is important as we move to remove the pilot from the aircraft, and automation could fly the aircraft using the same EZ-Fly control implementation."

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The FAA embarked on research and development for simplified flight controls under the NASA/FAA/industry Advanced General Aviation Transportation Experiments (AGATE) partnership in the 1990s, but the concepts proved too expensive and difficult to certify affordably for general aviation (GA) aircraft.

But in the last decade the FAA developed risk-based certification processes, and cheaper hardware became available from the consumer and unmanned aircraft system (UAS) markets. In the last two years, the FAA secured funding for the EZ Fly hardware demo, and work began last year to modify the FAA's Ryan Aeronautical Navion research aircraft to undertake the demonstration.

FAA representatives discussed the EZ Fly concept on Nov. 28 with aerospace industry officials at a meeting of the Simplified Vehicle Operations (SVO) panel of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

"The modifications to the original EZ-Fly concept, along with addition of a new display and integrated navigation system, were completed by the fourth quarter of 2017," the FAA said. "Flight testing and demos began to tweak the implementation to the level of functionality that was demonstrated at the GAMA SVO meeting in Nov. 2018."

According to the FAA, EZ Fly will enhance safety in a number of ways.

"EZ-Fly allows the pilot to directly control the flight path of the aircraft rather than controlling the pitch, roll, and yaw rates that traditional controls influence; provides automatic protections for speed, bank angle, pitch attitude, terrain, stall prevention, climb rate, and other parameters so the pilot is not burdened with controlling or limiting these parameters; allows the pilot to let go of the controls and the aircraft will continue to fly a steady level flight path without pilot input; keeps the pilot from hitting the ground by automatically enforcing an altitude floor below which the aircraft will not descend; does not allow the pilot to hurt themselves or the airplane; includes an integrated navigation system that automatically couples to flight plan or approach; and can be portable to other aircraft, as the control design is not specific to the Navion," the FAA said.  "This portability could provide large safety benefits to the retrofit GA community."

EZ Fly will demonstrate a simplified flight path-based Advanced Flight Control System, while using a fusion of sensors, control laws, displays, and a simplified pilot interface with full-envelope protection. The FAA is conducting the EZ Fly research to develop a means of compliance to certify similar systems.

EZ Fly's goal is to incorporate low-cost sensors and digital technology on "low end" general aviation aircraft, such as the BlackFly Ultralight VTOL vehicle, which the Canadian and Californian company, Opener, unveiled last summer. Opener said that the first BlackFly will cost about the same as an SUV and will be available for commercial sale next year.

"Advancements have helped us create a culture in the FAA to be ready and open for innovation," Wes Ryan of the FAA's small airplane standards branch, said at the Nov. 28 GAMA meeting. "This is a good thing since we now face the two biggest challenges in recent history for aviation at the same time — Simplified Vehicle Operations (SVO) and higher automation for both unmanned aircraft and passenger-carrying EVTOL. Both represent huge changes in technology and in the way aviation fits into our everyday lives, and huge opportunity for the aviation industry."

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