Why Don Bateman Is a Living Legend for Aircraft Safety


In 2003, Honeywell Aerospace recognized Don Bateman with its prestigious Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on life-saving, terrain-awareness warning system technology that has significantly reduced aircraft accidents. For many, the award is a career pinnacle – but Bateman didn’t stop there.

In the 12 years since, his achievements, awards and renown have continued to grow – including U.S. President Barack Obama personally presenting him with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011.

As Bateman marks 55 years with Honeywell this year, his accolades underscore the worldwide reputation he’s gained for creating technology that helped cut Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) accident risks from one in every 3 million flights to less than one in every 20 million flights. He is credited by many in the industry for saving more lives than any other individual in the history of aviation.

Bateman is the man behind Honeywell’s first Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) in 1975 and the revolutionary Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) introduced in 1996. He and his team created today’s SmartRunway and SmartLanding functions hosted as a software upgrade to the EGPWS system.

As Bob Witwer, Honeywell Aerospace Vice President of Advanced Technology puts it, “Don Bateman has dedicated his professional life to improving aircraft safety. He has spent half a century conceiving, designing, and fielding new aircraft functions to reduce the risk of accidents and improve situational awareness for pilots.”

A Corporate Fellow and Chief Engineer-Technologist for Flight Safety Systems and Technology at Aerospace-Redmond in Washington, Bateman was influenced on his career path after personally viewing aircraft wreckage as a youngster in Canada. Throughout his career with Honeywell, Bateman has been a driving force to improve its flight safety systems.

Corporate Fellow Randy Robertson calls Bateman “a living legend in the Aerospace industry,” noting “we are incredibly fortunate and honored to have Don as part of the Honeywell team.”

Bateman’s admirable list of awards includes being in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an Aviation Path Finder in the Museum of Flight, and a Royal Aeronautical Society Fellow. He received Aviation Week’s Laurel for IT/Electronics and its Award for Lifetime Achievement, and last year picked up the Elmer A. Sperry Award for enhancing the art of transportation. He has 47 U.S. patents and another 247 foreign patents.

Bob Champion, the Aerospace Research and Development Staff Scientist who manages Don’s team, considers it his “good fortune” to have worked with Don and the GPWS/EGPWS team over his 30-plus-year Honeywell career.

“As a ‘giant’ in the storied saga of aviation, Don has received many awards and accolades – but in truth, he is humble, self-effacing and will be the first to tell you that no one individual succeeds alone,” Champion said. “It is people working together that achieve great things.
“As a leader, Don is passionate, driven and not shy about what we, Honeywell, need to do to improve flight safety and bring a return on that investment to the shareholders. Don is a regular guy who comes to work each day with fire in his belly and the motivation to take that next step to improve flight safety.”
He added, “The fun things about working with Don and the team are the shared set of common goals and the relentless desire to improve safety of flight. Don has always challenged us to ask: ‘What is the problem we are trying to solve?’ The question inevitably leads us to discovery, debate, argument, problem resolution, product implementation and – on that very rare occasion – an admission from Don that he may have been wrong.”

Witwer expanded on a few of the technology advancements Bateman has produced, including:

  • Created the first Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS), which used Radio Altimeter altitude to warn pilots when they were too close to the ground. This helped reduce Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) – the single biggest cause of airplane accidents in the 1970s and ’80s.
  • Innovated the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), which developed a worldwide terrain data base and used aircraft position and trajectory to provide much earlier warning of potential ground collision. This system virtually eliminated CFIT on the aircraft where it was installed, and was such an important safety feature that it was mandated for most aircraft worldwide.
  • Developed Heads-Up Display (HUD) technology for the DC-8, MD-80 and Boeing 727, 737 and 747. Developed Loss of Control symbology for cockpit displays to help pilots recover safely after getting their aircraft into unusual attitudes (extreme left/right roll angles).
  • Leveraged Honeywell’s position with EGPWS installations to add software-only upgrades to provide pilots with safety alerts such as crossing an active runway during taxi, attempting to take off or land on a taxiway, and unstable landing configurations such as wing flaps not extended, aircraft too high on approach path or too far down runway to land safely.
  • Developed airport alerting algorithms and displays that provide aircraft on approach with a visual indication of other aircraft on their landing runway, giving them early warning if a go-around is necessary to avoid a collision.
  • Developed an algorithm and simple display for detecting and warning of potential ground collisions between airplanes and ground structures.
Greg Francois, Air Transport & Regional Avionics Technical Sales Manager, has known Bateman “since almost the first day I went to work in Redmond, my University of Washington BSEE diploma still wet, in June 1982,” he said. “I know of no one in the industry who has the passion and drive for ‘doing’ something, and in Don’s case, it was to make air travel safe.
“One of the highlights of my career was being able to work closely with Don and the rest of the EGPWS team nearly 15 years ago and be able to argue, collaborate, and laugh – and not atypical to do all three at virtually the same time – together,” he added. “He’s deserved all of the accolades he has received and is truly an inspiration to those that work in making air travel safer.”

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