Don Bateman is a strong advocate and driving force in aviation safety for six decades.
After fifty-five years of working for Honeywell (and its predecessor companies United Control/Sundstrand/AlliedSignal), Don Bateman continues to work hard every day to make flying safer for all of us.
Don is the inventor of the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS). This life-saving system alerts pilots to approaching terrain. The system, now evolved to Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), has been improved several times to add new protection alerts and enhanced situation awareness for terrain, obstacles and runways. In addition to the visual display, there are aural call-outs and alerts including “Terrain! Terrain!” And if the pilot doesn’t respond in a timely fashion, the alert progresses to “Terrain! Pull Up! Pull Up!” The EGPWS system has nearly eliminated a whole category of accidents referred to as Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). One recent software upgrade, called Smart Runway/Smart Landing, reduces the likelihood of a runway excursion or runway confusion (e.g., taking off or landing on the wrong runway). Future upgrades will include features like expanded alert windows along with additional energy awareness and spatial disorientation aids.
It is accepted within the industry that Don has probably saved more lives compared to any single person in aviation history. He has been repeatedly recognized internationally for his contributions. A “small” sample of these awards include the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (annual award presented by the President of the U.S. and is considered the highest honor the country can bestow on a citizen for achievements related to technological progress”), National Inventors Hall of Fame, Aviation Week Lifetime Achievement, Aviation Week Laurel, and Aviation Week Distinguished Service Award.
Don first began tracking aircraft accident data 75 years ago. Really, 75 years! He wrote his first accident report in 1940! Don and his buddy skipped out of school early when they were in the 3rd grade, chasing a flash in the sky. They rode their tricycles past the military police to the crash scene and witnessed the aftermath of a mid-air collision from the nearby military base in Saskatchewan, Canada. The horrific scene of mangled aircraft parts and bodies left an indelible impression on the 8-year old. As punishment for skipping out of school (and stealing a piece of canvas from the fuselage of the wrecked Avro), Don was assigned to write a 1-page report by his teacher on what he saw. Upon reading the report, his teacher told Don that he was destined to become an engineer because of his horrible spelling! Thus began Don’s journey as an aviation safety engineer.
Don continues to collect accident and incident data, looking for patterns and ways to keep improving Honeywell’s safety technology offerings. Since first product introduction in 1975, more than 100,000 GPWS/EGPWS boxes have been built and sold. Some airlines, like United Airlines, have replaced the computer four times. Don and his team keep getting better at increasing warning times, reducing unwanted warnings, and improving the interface to the pilot. Don receives thank you notes from airlines and regular reports of accidents saved because of the EGPWS technology. As you can imagine, notes and reports like this are highly rewarding to both Don and his team.
Don continues to actively lead a small team of “farm boys and girls and mavericks”. He leads the vision for his team and keeps raising the bar. Frequent chants from Don include “We’ve got to do better” and “We need to keep improving ourselves.” Greg Francois, a Honeywell sales manager, says that one of the highlights of his career at Honeywell is working with Don and rest of the EGPWS team and “be able to argue, collaborate and laugh – and not typical to do all three at virtually the same time – together.” Don says the team is motivated by solving problems, seeing the safety technology fly on airplanes and making a financial return on investment. Don reports about his team: “They can be a bit high maintenance at times, but they are worth it! They still tell me when I’m wrong.”
Don Bateman (third from right) and his small team of “farmers and mavericks”.
When asked about future technology enhancements, three main topics get Don excited: prevention of loss-of-control accidents, prevention of landing short accidents, and preventing an aircraft from destroying itself with people and crew onboard. Don proposes that loss of control and landing short accidents may be mitigated by Synthetic Vision Systems (using the EGPWS terrain database) along with advanced symbology and expansion of EGPWS alert envelope. As for the prevention of aircraft from destroying itself, Don and his team have taken it a step further. They have designed, tested and flown an auto-recovery system (on an Airbus A319). “Pilots are able to fly the airplane any way they want, but if they do something stupid, the machine will protect itself.” While Synthetic Vision Systems with advanced symbology have been certified on business jets, it has yet to make its way onto an Air Transport category airplane. Auto-recovery systems are flying on some military aircraft, but have yet to be certified for civilian application.
Don continues to actively spread the word of Aviation Safety across the globe. This past month alone he was in Belgium, France and Colombia! I’m proud to be one member of Don’s small team of engineers. He inspires me daily and has been an awesome mentor. Oftentimes I’m asked, “Is Don going to ever retire?” I think the best response is what I read in a quote about Don in the Seattle Times from Bill Vos, Flight Safety Foundation, “How do you retire from saving lives?.... apparently you don’t.”