Electronics patent of the month: Aiding pilot choice of flight path modes
GB patent no: 2454987
Granted to: Thales, on 18 July 2012 – Automatic pilot device and method with instinctive target lock-on
Awareness of the activities of search and rescue teams has increased recently, and can be attributed in part to the involvement of a certain member of the Royal Family. Now, a patent granted to French conglomerate Thales should also contribute to the success of such missions.
Patent no. 2454987 was granted on 18 July 2012 and describes an automatic pilot system for aircraft used for rescue or surveillance manoeuvres.
In a surveillance or rescue mission undertaken by an airplane, the aircraft must fly in the direction of the target as well as being able to circle the area prior to taking the appropriate action. For example, it may be necessary to drop a support team as close as possible to a vessel, or during a surveillance mission a circular flight path may be required in order to observe the zone.
For both of these operations, the pilot must monitor the direction of flight towards the target and the altitudes, whilst at the same time consider the flight trajectory once the target is approached.
Aircraft typically use an automatic pilot system in conjunction with a flight management system to plan and execute a flight route. Flight management systems deployed in search and rescue aircraft can be used to define a circular flight path, but the pilot is still required to programme certain parameters and this can distract the pilot from the task of observing a scene.
The invention eases the burden on the pilot by allowing the automatic pilot device to select between two flight path modes. The first flight path mode is a circular flight path around a location point according to a radius of a circle calculated by the flight path computer, and the second flight path mode results in overflying a location point according to a heading and with an overflight frequency calculated by the flight path controller.
When one of the modes is activated, the location designation device provides the flight path computer with a location point allowing it to automatically programme an optimal flight path of the selected mode in the automatic pilot device.
In particular, the device can be programmed so that in the first mode the radius of the flight path is minimised in line with the speed variations of the aircraft, whilst complying with its flight envelope.
Since the system automatically calculates the flight paths for each of the chosen flight modes, the pilot and his team can concentrate on observing the target zone, which should lead to faster and more successful rescue operations.
Michael Jaeger is a patent attorney at leading UK patent and trade mark attorneys, Withers & Rogers LLP.
Previous Electronics Patent of the Months:
Electronics patent of the month: Multiple radio transceivers sharing an antenna
Electronics patent of the month: Sensors to avoid driver blindness