Maintaining optimum awareness with HGS

For nearly 28 years, I have flown and contributed to the development of Head-up Guidance (HGS™) and Head-up Display (HUD) technology. I’ve spent much of this time creating safety processes, supporting regulatory efforts, supporting flight operations and facilitating operational implementation for aircraft makers and operators. 

During this time, commercial flight operations have become the safest they have ever been. However, there is a caveat. Flight decks are now extraordinarily complex automated environments and require far more pilot monitoring. Much time is spent learning how to manage the automated environment and mastering manual flying skills can take a back seat, which has lead to a number of high-profile accidents and incidents as outlined by the FAA and Flight Safety Foundation.

Commercial aviation HUD operations began in 1987 when Alaska Airlines, using the Flight Dynamics (purchased by Rockwell Collins in the late 1990’s) HGS, obtained Category (CAT) II and III low-visibility approach and takeoff approval. This led to a significant change in flight operations throughout the world. Through the years, HUDs have transitioned from purely a low-visibility tool, to a full-time use primary flight reference tool, and even a means to display supplemental video images of the outside world known as enhanced vision. It’s no wonder operators and aircraft makers are electing to equip with this amazing technology. Let me enumerate some of its many capabilities:


  • Improved pilot precision and performance (control of speed, attitude, altitude, and energy)
  • Improved landing performance – with runway remaining and runway deceleration also displayed
  • Exclusive operating benefits at CAT I and CAT III facilities
  • RNP operations
  • Access to new vision technologies and full benefits of enhanced and synthetic vision
  • Superior safety implementations: Tailstrike protection, runway remaining and deceleration cueing on landing, upset and stall identification and recovery.

More important than operational capabilities are the countless accidents or incidents HUD has helped avoid.  Although aviation safety has improved remarkably over the last 20 years, there are still categories of accidents that occur too frequently and HUDs can help with accidents where the pilot lacks awareness of the airplane state, including:

  • Manual flight skill degradation
  • Unstable approach
  • Upset at altitude and recovery
  • Unrecognized stall
  • Wrong stall recovery method
  • Landing short
  • Landing long
  • Runway excursions
  • Tail strikes on takeoff and landing

Regulators have recently issued a number of SAFOs (Safety Alert for Operators), Advisory Circulars, training requirements, etc., to mitigate the trend toward these accidents. These information methods, though informative, do not identify the specific technologies that can avoid and prevent these accidents. HUDs have a more efficient presentation of the necessary flight information to intuitively identify the problem/threat and avoid it.  I am not implying flight decks are deficient without a HUD, only that a HUD presents an unparalleled level of real-world information.  From this it is clear to me that implementing HUD technology on airplanes, where it is available, is integral to providing complete conformal situational awareness. It cannot be stated strongly enough that HUDs are highly efficient in providing the means for a pilot to maintain optimum awareness of the airplane state.

HUDs are a full-flight regime primary reference tool that integrates the pilot and the airplane, improving the way you do business on the flight deck, through unprecedented safety and advanced situational awareness.  Pilots now have a constant understanding of the current state of the airplane.  Needless to say, HUDs are no longer just tools for low-visibility operations. 

Safe flying,

Dean Schwab is senior manager of HGS Flight Operations / Technical and Regulatory Affairs for Rockwell Collins Head-Up Guidance Systems (HGS).

Dean has been with Rockwell Collins for fifteen years overseeing HGS Flight Operations and Technical/Regulatory.  He works supporting the airline and business/regional flight departments, OEM All Weather Operations advisory support, participating in industry working groups as a Head-Up Display expert and provides engineering operational review of HGS/HUD systems for Rockwell Collins Head-Up Guidance Systems.  In addition, Dean supports and advises regulatory agencies worldwide in developing HUD operating procedures, minima, training and proof-of-concept for new HUD procedures. 

Dean’s previous 20 years in the aviation industry were in airline flight operations and leading flight operations training and flight technical.

Story posted: May 8, 2015

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