Overview

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Problem: Landing Accidents

  • More than 70% of all accidents happen during approach and landing.

  • Poor airspeed management by pilots contributes to many landing accidents.

  • Key elements: High task-loading or inattention and distraction.

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Timing: A Plea from Aviation Safety Experts

  • Many aviation safety experts have analyzed these accidents. As a result, the NTSB issued a strong recommendation to the FAA to require installation of multi-sensory low airspeed alerting systems in all commercial aircraft

  • The FAA mandated alerting system installation in commercial aircraft applying for a new or updated certification from 2010 onward. A retrofit mandate is currently under discussion.

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Solution: Q-Alpha Flight Energy Awareness Display

  • A new low airspeed alerting system that: 1) is highly effective, especially when pilots are distracted and inattentive, and 2) is easily retrofitted.

  • The IP-protected ‘Q-Alpha Flight Energy Awareness Display’ has been thoroughly tested and has been endorsed by every pilot that has flown with it.

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Opportunity: 500+ Lives and $6+ Billion

  • Q-Alpha can save 500+ lives and $6+ Billion over 10 years.

  • In its first year of operation, the display can save airlines enough to pay for its installation.

  • High net margins, a large addressable market, and well-capitalized potential acquirers.

Founding story

The seeds of SkovAero were planted during a technical conference in 2012 organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Andrew Skow, an AIAA Associate Fellow and former chief aerosciences engineer of Northrop's F-20 Tigershark fighter jet, was attending to receive an award for co-authoring an aerodynamics paper deemed ‘most influential of the 1980's.'

Skow noticed there were several technical sessions on the subject of Loss of Control In-flight (LoC-I), the number one killer in commercial aviation. Knowing that poor energy management by pilots causes more than 50% of LoC-I accidents in military aviation, he decided to sit in on these sessions to see if the same was true in commercial aviation.

In the opening presentation NASA's Dr. Christine Belcastro showed the same issues with poor energy management were found in most LoC-I accidents in commercial aviation. She went on to identify two solution paths for accident mitigation: one toward new technologies to prevent unintentional loss of energy, the other toward new training systems to help pilots safely recover when energy is lost.

After listening to three days of presentations by engineers, scientists, pilots and human factors experts and absorbing all of this information, Skow came to the conclusion that he might be able to make a contribution to both accident prevention technologies and recovery training systems.

While most of the aerodynamic and flight mechanics issues at low airspeed/high-angle-of-attack are the same in fighter jets and commercial aircraft, there are important systems and human factors differences. As such, Skow sought advice from longtime friend and former colleague Pete Reynolds. Reynolds was the former VP of Flight Test for Bombardier and a very well respected experimental test pilot with deep experience testing commercial and business corporate aircraft at and beyond the stall.

 

Before his untimely passing in 2014, Pete Reynolds was VP of Flight Test at Bombardier. He is shown here in the cockpit of a Bombardier Global Express business jet in 1999. 

Before his untimely passing in 2014, Pete Reynolds was VP of Flight Test at Bombardier. He is shown here in the cockpit of a Bombardier Global Express business jet in 1999. 

The two joined forces to tackle the problem of poor energy management in commercial aviation. With the founding team in place, the research, engineering and testing that would result in the design of the Q-Alpha Flight Energy Awareness Display was started.

 

Aviation Safety

It's true that it's never been safer to fly -- 2017 was officially the safest year in commercial air travel history, with US airlines recording zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets. In the 1950s, the odds of an accident were about one in 50,000. The odds of dying in an airline crash today are about one in 50 million.

But this long, steady decline in commercial aviation accidents obscures a troubling trend and real problem: 29 Loss of Control (LoC) and Approach/Landing Accidents (ALAs) over the last 10 years have ended the lives of 1,975 people and levied a financial cost to the airlines of more than $20B. This is a big number, but when hull losses and other costs from non-fatal ALAs over the same 10-year period are added, the total financial impact exceeds $30B.

In addition to the high-profile LoC-I accidents, it is less widely known that between 2003 and 2010 fatalities in the approach/landing phases of flight increased almost 300% even though most airports today have systems that should make landing much easier and safer.

The highest-profile of these fatal accidents (Asiana 214, Air France 447 and Turkish 1951) have increased the pressure on Government aviation regulators, commercial aircraft manufacturers and airline operators to take action. The common factors across all three accidents? Pilots were unaware of energy loss. 

It is important to note that more than 50% of all accidents (fatal and non-fatal) occur in the approach and landing phase of flight. Even though fatal accidents receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage, more than 80% of approach and landing accidents are non-fatal. Nonetheless they are incredibly costly in a myriad of ways to aircraft operators.

With the scope and magnitude of the problem they were solving now well understood, Skow and Reynolds set about identifying the root causes of the most frequent accident types in commercial aviation.

Accident Causes

Following analysis of data from many accidents, review of years of human factors research, and piloted simulations, Skow and Reynolds determined that the common taxonomy in these accidents was a loss of airspeed that is unnoticed by the pilots. 

The penalty for improper energy management can be de-stabilized approaches, excessive pilot workload leading to distraction, and ultimately inadequate altitude or airspeed to recover from a loss of control event. Poor energy management during flight phases in which the aircraft is close to the ground are most often unforgiving and lethal.
— Steven Jacobson, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

The unnoticed loss of airspeed can be attributed to two primary underlying causes:

1. Over reliance on or over-confidence in automation, resulting in complacency

Humans are not well-suited to the task of actively monitoring a parameter being controlled by a high-authority automatic system - no matter how important the parameter is. Vigilance reduces, complacency results. All human pilots are susceptible to this.

 

2. low situational awareness

Because automatic systems have proliferated the flight decks of modern aircraft, pilots have transitioned from being ‘aviators’ to ‘systems managers’, touching the stick on average just 3.5 minutes out of an entire flight. This has led to an erosion of airmanship skills, and a degraded ability to correctly assess the situation when things go wrong.

 
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...the Board concludes that a requirement for the installation of low-airspeed alert systems could substantially reduce the number of accidents and incidents involving flight-crew failure to maintain airspeed.
— NTSB recommendation that the FAA require the installation of “low-airspeed alert” systems

Recognizing the importance of improving energy state awareness, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), and other aviation safety organizations have championed the development of low-speed alerting systems for new and existing commercial aircraft. As part of this effort they've developed design guidelines and recommendations for would-be technology solutions. The guidelines have four core components.

Design Guidelines

 

1. The alert should come on early

Technologies are needed that identify and warn of degraded energy states.
— Steven Jacobson, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

2. The alert meaning should be unambiguous

Alerting must be readily and easily detectable and intelligible by the flight crew under all foreseeable operating conditions, including conditions where multiple alerts are provided.
— Avionics System Harmonization Working Group

3. the alert shouldn't produce false alarms

The alert function must be designed to minimize the effects of nuisance alerts.
— ARAC Recommendation on Low Speed Alerting Systems

4. THE SYSTEM SHOULD EASILY RETROFIT into EXISTING AIRCRAFT

The focus of this Safety Enhancement recommendation is on low cost, low technology solutions with ease of retrofit and production incorporation.
— CAST Intervention Strategy (Safety Enhancement SE 205.3)

With a deep understanding of the problem at hand and guidance from industry safety experts, Skov Aero set about designing algorithms and intuitive display formats for an effective energy state monitoring system to reduce the rate of approach/landing and loss of control accidents in business/corporate and commercial aviation. Prototypes were built and successfully tested, and international patents applications were submitted. The result (and flagship product) is called the Q-Alpha Flight Energy Awareness Display.

Flagship Product

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Q-Alpha Flight Energy Awareness Display

In response to calls from Government and Industry safety experts, Skov Aero is the first company to develop an effective energy state monitoring system that can reduce the rate of Approach/Landing and Loss of Control accidents in Business/Corporate and Commercial aviation. Q-Alpha is a highly effective low airspeed alerting system that can be installed in newly manufactured aircraft and easily retrofitted into existing aircraft.

The Q-Alpha display is simple but effective and unique in its ability to enhance aviation safety while reducing operational costs. It is specifically designed to enhance a pilot’s situational awareness in highly stressful and adverse situations when his/her ability to monitor energy state can be degraded and in situations when pilots are distracted and/or inattentive. It is also designed to be used as an emergency backup display when energy state information is not available due to system failures, sometimes caused by atmospheric effects.

Both the location of the q-alpha display and its display formats are unique. The location was selected so that the alerts can be seen by a pilot that is looking over the nose (as in a straight-in approach to a landing) or out the side window (as in a circling approach to a landing). Display formats were selected so that the alert can be instantly recognized and understood by a pilot without the need to look directly at the display.

The q-alpha Display has 3 operational modes:

  • Stable Approach Monitor - for the Approach, Landing and Go-Around phases of flight
  • Low Airspeed Alerting - for the Climb, Cruise and Descent phases of flight
  • Autonomous/Synthetic Airspeed - when onboard sources of airspeed are lost

Why It's More Effective

The Q-Alpha system gets its name from its use of both dynamic pressure (which includes airspeed squared and density altitude) and angle of attack to set alerting thresholds. Because we use both measures, our alerting thresholds can be set at higher airspeeds than existing low airspeed alerting systems. This allows pilots more time to take corrective action. The 'industry standard' low airspeed alerting system, the so-called 'Amber Band', uses only angle of attack. The Amber Band was installed in the Asiana B777 aircraft that crashed in SFO in 2013.

Importantly, our earlier alerts do not generate false alarms or nuisance alerts. In the Asiana accident, the low airspeed alerting system in the 777 gave its first alert at 114 knots, just 11 seconds prior to impact with the sea wall. Our system would have provided its first alert at 132 knots, a full 30 seconds prior to impact. An easy recovery would have been possible.

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view and download q-alpha brochure

Q-Alpha Has Been Thoroughly Tested

The Q-Alpha display has been thoroughly tested in Boeing 737-800 and Gulfstream G550 FSI simulators, and in a Cessna182 aircraft.

Test Pilot Testimonials

During the 737 testing, company and NASA test pilots flew more than 200 test conditions that included descents, landing approaches and go-arounds from missed approaches. Pilot comments included:

  • “This device will help guys fly stable approaches”
  • “It kept me ‘on-speed’ without distracting from other tasks”
  • “The display gave me a timely alert when airspeed deviated below Vref”
  • “It made the Go-Around feel safer, especially ones that were initiated late”
  • “This display will reduce FOQA exceedences”
  • “Go-Arounds will be much less likely”
  • “Having the ‘green doughnut’ in my peripheral continued to make me comfortable, especially during Go-Arounds. And I never had to look at it.”

The tests at NASA confirmed that the algorithms in the Q-Alpha display are robust and effective and that the alerting approach was: “Instantly recognizable, clear and unambiguous, especially to distracted pilot”. These are the keys to our competitive position in the market.

 

Asiana 214 Simulation

During the crash of Asiana 214 on a clear day in San Francisco the on-board air speed alerting systems gave the first warning at 114 knots, an altitude of 100 feet and 11 seconds prior to impact – too late for a recovery. It has been established that recovery was not possible no matter what the pilot did.

The Q-Alpha Display would have provided a warning at 132 knots, an altitude of 480 feet, 31 seconds prior to impact – allowing an easy recovery. In the following video of tests at NASA, the pilot was instructed to ignore the Q-Alpha alerts during a simulated approach at SFO. It shows that the Q-Alpha alerts would be virtually impossible to ignore in real life.

Value Proposition

The Q-Alpha display will provide pilots with enhanced awareness of critical flight parameters, allowing them to fly safer and more fuel-efficient mission profiles. 

A very achievable 25% reduction in the number of fatal Approach/Landing and LoC accidents over the next 10 years can save 500+ lives and $6+ Billion.

A very achievable 25% reduction in the number of Unstable Approaches and non-fatal Approach/Landing accidents over the next 10 years can save $3+ Billion.

Finally, cost-benefit analysis has shown that the Q-Alpha display can save airlines enough money within its first year of operation to pay for its installation.

Small Device, Big Benefits

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safer landings and fewer runway excursions

Reduces the likelihood of expensive aircraft damage due to landing accidents/incidents caused by undershoot/overshoot, runway excursions and abnormal runway contact.

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FEWER AND SAFER "GO-AROUNDS"

Helps pilots maintain energy awareness especially during high workload, stressful situations such as landing, resulting in fewer go-arounds that burn excess fuel.

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More on-time arrivals and a better passenger experience

Reduces departure/arrival delays, thereby enhancing traffic management efficiencies and reducing fleet-wide fuel consumption.

Team + Supporters

Skov Aero and the Q-Alpha display have been developed and supported by a team of highly experienced engineers and pilots from Northrop, Bombardier and Airbus. We have deep expertise in the operation of Commercial aircraft and with the Governmental regulatory system, with a focus on Aviation Safety.

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andrew skow, CEO

Skow is the former Chief Aerosciences Engineer for the F-20 TigerShark at Northrop and an SAE Wright Brothers Medal winner. 

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steve chealander

Mr. Chealander is a former USAF fighter pilot, American Airlines Captain, VP Flight Operation at Airbus America, Thunderbirds Demonstration Team pilot and NTSB Member.

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BOB MOREAU

Mr. Moreau is a former FedEx chief experimental test pilot and an FAA designated airworthiness representative.

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LARRY ROCKLIFF

Mr. Rockliff is a former Canadian Forces fighter pilot, Snowbirds Demonstration Team pilot and Airbus’ Chief Test Pilot – China. 

Media and Events

Press coverage and industry presentations about SkovAero and the Q-Alpha display

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"Energy Is Life: Manage It Well"

Business & Commercial Aviation, March 2018, Vol. 114, Issue 3

Ross Detwiler Business & Commercial Aviation

"There’s been a lot of discussion lately about effective go-arounds from low altitudes. All of these talks focus on..."

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Late Bombardier test pilot’s ‘DNA is embedded’ in air safety product

"Before Pete Reynolds, a retired Bombardier vice president of flight test, died in 2014, he and former Learjet colleague..."

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SETP's 62ND Annual Symposium PAPER

Founder Andrew Skow was selected to present his paper on Q-Alpha and ‘Energy Management Issues in Highly Automated Cockpits’ at the 62nd Symposium & Banquet of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots in September 2018. 

 

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Our Office

101 Commercial Way – Hangar C
Tehachapi, CA 93561

(661) 618-9415

askow@tigercenturyaircraft.com

 
 

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