3D Displays

The concept of Free Flight

The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is expected to result in an increase in pilot’s situation awareness and understanding of the populated airspace, thus supporting problem-solving tasks such as prediction, detection, and avoidance of conflicts with weather and other aircraft. The improvement of information sharing across all operators in the air traffic management system will support NextGen concepts of operations like Free Flight.

With Free Flight, pilots have the freedom to select their path and speed in real time.

The role of weather

To safely select a path, there is a need for better weather information. Concerning questions of safety, the current weather information system is limited. Because of these limitations, the FAA is working on providing more up-to-date and easy to understand weather information. As the technology needed for weather sensing and real-time weather information collection improves, and begins to deliver ever greater amounts of data to the cockpit, the aim was:

To understand how weather information should be displayed in order to enhance pilot’s situation awareness.

A lab experiment with real pilots

In this work, I evaluated the effects of different display perspectives on pilot performance in weather and traffic avoidance tasks using a 3 (display format: 2D toggle display, 3D toggle display and a 3D flexible display with a continuously manipulable viewpoint) x 2 (weather phenomena: convection and turbulence potential) within-subjects experiment.

The top row shows convective weather and the bottom row shows turbulence potential with top-views, side-views, and 3D views, respectively.

Results showed efficiency and situation awareness advantages when using a 2D toggle display. However, the 3D display with a continuously manipulable viewpoint performed similarly and was superior to the 2D toggle display for safety. Additionally, the different weather types seemed to be best supported by different display formats: pilots were most conservative in convective weather conditions.

Tools, skills, and experience

As the lead of this Master thesis project, I defined the research goals, designed the experiment, collected data, and conducted the analysis. In this project, I collaborated with weather experts, a pilot and an engineer. Specifically, I:

  • Collected data (latitude and longitude coordinates) of actual weather
  • Created the visual stimuli together with an engineer
  • Prepared procedures and protocols
  • Prepared training sessions
  • Assessed quantitative data for effiency (path length and number of waypoints), safety (closest approach to weather, resolution time and weather penetration) and situation awareness (using the Situation Present Awareness Method post-trial)
  • Applied repeated measures within subjects ANOVAs in SPSS

The main challenges of this work

The main challenge was to design a controlled lab study while using actual pilot procedures to make the task as realistic as possible.


This study provides guidance on how to display weather and traffic information to support pilots’ safe navigation around weather hazards in future cockpits.

This work is published in Advances in Human Aspects in Aviation, edited by Steven J. Landry: Lim, V., Johnson, W. W. (2012). Dimensionality Effects on Weather Avoidance. 


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