Joe Costello Design

Primary Flight


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The Crash of Air France Flight 447


Shortly before 02:14 UTC on June 1st, 2009, the Airbus A330 of Air France flight 447 entered an aerodynamic stall over the Atlantic Ocean from which it never recovered. Later investigation concluded that airspeed measurement sensors had likely iced-over causing a cascading set of systems failures: forced autopilot disengagement, suboptimal flight display feedback, and fatal pilot error.


With controls handed back to the crew, one pilot attempted to maintain altitude through a slight rearward pull of the flight stick. This caused the craft to exceed safe flight parameters, slowly lose airspeed, and eventually enter a stall condition. Experts have posited that additional equipment like GPS-based speed estimation, an angle-of-attack sensor, and a flight display capable of improved feedback could have saved this flight.


Thus, this tragedy represents not only a failure of equipment and training, but of design. Commercial and general aviation crafts have begun to use GPS speed estimation and AoA sensors but the Primary Flight Display systems have remained nearly unchanged.


Design Inquiry

How might we create a flight display that is capable of displaying the complex but pertinent information in a form that is clean and easily comprehensible?


existing flight display

Beyond merely including equipment upgrades, the existing Primary Flight Display (PFD) represent a glaring design opportunity.

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I began by trying to understand the pilots and the functional environment in which this display is employed.

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And by studying the existing feedback loops and functions of the data displayed.



Proposed Solution

Through this understanding, I’ve developed and proposed a new Primary Flight Display system.

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Building upon the familiar but using additional sensor inputs, real-time external camera feeds, and a modest increase in computing power, a new flight display could imbue the pilots with a heightened understanding of the craft’s motion and trajectory, pertinent information regarding system operation, and enhanced feedback in the event of complications or failures.

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Video Demonstration

To simulate the system in action, a demonstration was built using After Effects and Element 3D