Don Bateman, Trailblazer in Airline Safety, Dies at 91

Don Bateman is the engineer who invented the cockpit device that warns airplane pilots with colorful screens and distressing alarm sounds like: “Watch the terrain!” and “Pull up!” The innovation that probably saved thousands of lives when in danger of crashing into mountains, buildings or water died on May 21 at his home in Bellevue, Washington. he was 91 years old.

Her daughter Catherine McCaslin said the cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease.

The ground proximity warning system, which Bateman began working on in the late 1960s and continued to refine until he retired from Honeywell International in 2016, warns pilots against accidental land or water strikes due to poor visibility or bad weather. A common cause of aviation fatalities.

Plane crashes in this category have almost disappeared. Data compiled by Boeing on commercial jets worldwide show 17 accidents and 1,007 fatalities between 2001 and 2010, compared with 27 accidents between 1991 and 2000. Between 2011 and 2020, there were only six similar accidents and six passenger and crew fatalities. Killed 2,237 people.

“Don Bateman and his team have probably saved more lives through safety systems technology than anyone in the history of aviation,” Charlie Pereira, former senior aerospace engineer for the National Transportation Safety Board, said in an email. And the number is estimated to be in the thousands.

“He was very passionate,” added Pereira. “He was a typical engineer with pocket protectors and pencils and pens, but he showed me what it meant to be a safety engineer.”

Mr Bateman American Inventors Hall of Fame 2005 and Awarded the National Medal of Technology In 2011, “Innovation from Present” from Barack Obama for the development and advocacy of “flight safety sensors, such as ground proximity warning and wind shear detection systems, currently in use on more than 55,000 aircraft worldwide.” Awarded.

Bob Champion, a former Honeywell scientist who worked with Bateman, said in a telephone interview. He was a peach, but he could be a pitbull when we were rushing things behind closed doors. “

Bateman was a pilot himself, flying a single-engine Cessna 182.

“He never lost his childhood fascination with airplanes,” McCaslin said by phone. “He’s done a lot of great work since his 40s. He started flying and running in his 40s, completed his 50th marathon, and he was 54 with his last child. gave birth to

Charles Donald Bateman was born on March 8, 1932 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His father George repaired watches and ran a jewelry store. His mother, Gladys (Noel) Bateman, was a homemaker. They divorced after World War II.

Don’s interest in airline safety began when he was nine years old when a friend looked out of his classroom window in Saskatoon and saw debris and what appeared to be people falling from the sky. It is said that Two military planes with 10 people on board collided mid-air. Don and his friends left school early and rushed to the scene of the accident.

“I never saw human blood.” He told the Seattle Times in 2012:. “It was terrible.”

After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering, Mr. Bateman worked as a television repair technician and ran a television repair shop. He was hired by Boeing in his 1958 and two years later transferred to the avionics company United He controls. The company’s aviation instrument business is now part of Honeywell.

Mr. Bateman told the National Science and Technology Medal Foundation. In 2011, it was revealed that nearly every month in the late 1960s, pilots had fatal crashes “driving into something, such as a mountain, or going onto a runway.”

At the time, pilots used altimeters to measure altitude, topographic maps, and visual cues to avoid accidents. “But in poor visibility and cloudy conditions, these cues were not very effective,” Dr. Hassan Shahidi, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, said in an interview.

Determined to do something, Bateman developed the first ground proximity warning system, patented in 1974. The system was a small box that integrated in-aircraft data such as radar altimeter and airspeed indicator and gave the pilot his 15-second warning. approaching danger.

In 1971, when Alaska Airlines Flight 1866 (a Boeing 727 that used an early version of this system) crashed into the fog-shrouded mountains of Alaska’s Chilkat Mountains as it was about to land in Juneau, the device was limited. was used for purposes. capital. All 111 people on board died.

Two weeks later, Mr. Bateman followed the same route as the passengers on Flight 1866 in a small plane carrying the device. With a few seconds to spare, the alarm went off, giving the pilot plenty of time to fly to safety. But Bateman realized that Alaska Airlines pilots didn’t have enough time to react.

“Disappointed,” he told in 2016. “We needed to do better.”

he did By 1974, the system had improved enough to provide earlier warning, and the Federal Aviation Administration mandated it on all domestic aircraft. The agency took action after a TWA flight crashed on a forested slope in Virginia that year, killing 92 people, prompting a congressional committee to delay action to improve airline safety. criticized the agency for

In the 1990s, the system improved dramatically. Engineers working with Bateman added GPS and important terrain data, including topographic maps of Eastern Europe and China produced by the Soviet Union in the 1920s. These were obtained in Russia at Mr. Bateman’s request.

“As engineers, we knew that if we had terrain data, we could do so much,” he told the Seattle Times.

Critically speaking, Renamed Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, EGPWS warned the pilot of an obstacle ahead for two minutes. In 2000, long after many major commercial airlines began using the system, the FAA mandated that all of his six or more seat registered turbine-powered aircraft be equipped with the system.

In addition to McCaslin, Bateman is survived by his wife, Mary (Contreras) Bateman. Another daughter, Wendy Bastian. Two sons, Greg and Patrick. 8 grandchildren. and two great-grandchildren. His marriage to Joan Barney ended in divorce. A third son, Dan, died in 1988.

In 2015, Bateman wrote: Hindsight magazine, An airline safety publication independently investigated six recent incidents where warning systems averted disaster.

For example, in 2014, the crew of a Saab 2000 twin-turboprop plane near Sumburgh, Scotland, lost control of the plane after a lightning strike, failing to realize the autopilot was still on. But Bateman wrote that the crew “recovered from the high-speed descent to the surface after the EGPWS warning was issued.”

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