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18 May 2005
18. May 2005 Commercial Aircraft

Ground proximity warning system inventor Don Bateman is inducted in to the Hall of Fame

The man who devised the technology which gives pilots of Airbus aircraft vital early warning of close terrain ahead has been officially recognised as one of the world's great inventors.

Don Bateman is credited with saving countless lives with his ground proximity warning system and its later enhanced version, installed on all Airbus aircraft.

Now the engineer from Honeywell, suppliers of a range of electronic cockpit systems to Airbus, is to be inducted in to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in America.

Mr. Bateman will join some of history's most famous innovators, including Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, Henry Ford -- who invented the car's transmission mechanism -- and Sir Alec Jefferys, who developed DNA profiling.

"I don't think of myself as an inventor, just an engineer doing my job," said the modest 73-year-old during a working visit to Airbus headquarters in Toulouse in which he met John Lauber, Airbus' chief product safety officer (see photo at left).

Despite a career spanning 45 years, Mr. Bateman is still pursuing ideas to make flying safer: "There's no end to improving safety in aviation," he said.

"There are always new things to learn. Airbus has shown a serious commitment to improving flight safety since it began. I regard fly-by-wire and the protection envelope it brought in as one of the major safety developments in aviation, and the A380 will be one of the safest aircraft flying."

Mr. Bateman devised the Ground Proximity Warning System, based on radio altimeter technology, in the early 1970s after going to the scene of a major crash in which a passenger aircraft had ploughed into a mountainside in Alaska while preparing to land. The system soon became established technology on commercial aircraft and the number of fatal accidents involving airliners crashing simply because they got too close to land or water dropped.

As global positioning technology developed and the end of the Cold War enabled Honeywell to acquire topographical data compiled by the Russians, Mr. Bateman and his team developed the EGPWS -- the "E" stands for enhanced -- which provides a three-dimensional colour-coded picture not just of terrain below the aircraft but some way ahead. Airbus was the first manufacturer to certify EGPWS on its aircraft, in 1997.

The A380 incorporates the EGPWS and takes safety a step further with Honeywell's Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System.

Mr. Bateman, Honeywell's chief engineer, flight safety systems, has no intention of retiring from a career dedicated to safety. He is now working on an auto-recovery device which will enable the aircraft to respond to its own warning systems in the event of the pilots failing to act.

He will be inducted in to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in a special ceremony at its headquarters in Akron, Ohio, on 14 May.

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