Every now and then, we come across an idea so forehead-slappingly simple, so practical and logical that we have to ask: how come nobody thought of this before? When you have one of those moments, you know the inventor's onto a rip-snorter of a product - and so it is with the VirtualHUD, a super-bright projector that uses the back of a plane's propeller as a screen to create a full-color heads-up display. The system uses similar technology to the augmented reality systems The Mobiler covered recently to overlay instrumental data, as well as GPS points, 'highway in the sky' targets and visual representations of things like no-fly zones, over the pilot's actual view out the cockpit windscreen - all without obscuring natural vision through the propeller.
The VirtualHUD is a simple bolt-on system for any plane with a nose propeller that takes a readout from almost any avionics package or flight GPS system and projects it onto the back of the spinning prop, overlaying information, graphics, warning and waypoints directly over the pilot's view from the cockpit.
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It's a simple as that - the HUD is readable pretty much from idle and gets even smoother as prop speed increases. You can stick a strip of white paint along the back of each propeller blade to enhance visibility, but it's pretty effective even without it. And once the system is installed and running, there's rarely any need to take your eyes off the skies - you can easily see your pitch and roll against a horizon line, 'highway in the sky' targets from your GPS, and anything else you can draw from your avionics and GPS systems.
If you've got access to long-wave infrared cameras, you can use the VirtualHUD as a kind of night vision system too, projecting a clear "daylight" vision of your forward view that turns your propeller into a "window of visibility" through smoke, haze, darkness or fog.
Because it's just a simple projector system, there's no reason why you couldn't use it to show your own in-flight movies too.
A portable, detachable night-use only system - the NightVu - is already available for sale at USD$7500, and the fully featured daytime use system - the ForwardVu - is set for release by this year's OshKosh airshow in late July, according to its inventor William Steele, who discusses the VirtualHUD system at length in the Aero News TV video below:
Steele's intention is to make the VirtualHUD system an OEM component for as many prop planes as possible, and as such he's licensing the technology worldwide and providing engineering support to anyone who wishes to design the VirtualHUD into their flight systems.
Great idea Mr. Steele, here's hoping it makes enough economic sense to become standard fitment.