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Don Bateman, Trailblazer in Airline Safety, Dies at 91

Don Bateman, an engineer who invented a cockpit device that gives airplane pilots warnings like color screen displays and terrifying audible alerts “Caution Area!” and “Pull Up!” When they are in danger of crashing into mountains, buildings or water — an innovation that has saved thousands of lives — died May 21 at his home in Bellevue, Wash. He was 91 years old.

His daughter, Catherine McCaslin, stated that the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

The Ground Proximity Warning System, which Mr. Bateman began working on in the late 1960s, and continued to improve until he retired from Honeywell International in 2016, prevents pilots from mistakenly approaching land or water due to poor visibility and inclement weather. warns against sliding in, once the most common cause of airline deaths

That category of plane crash has been virtually eliminated. According to data compiled by Boeing about commercial jets worldwide, there were only six such accidents from 2011 to 2020, killing 229, compared to 17 accidents from 2001 to 2010, killing 1,007, and 2 from 1991 to 2000. Till date there were 27 accidents. 2,237 were killed.

Charlie Pereira, a former senior aerospace engineer at the National Transportation Safety Board, wrote in an email estimating the number to be in the thousands, “Don Bateman and his team have probably saved more lives through safety system technologies than anyone else in aviation history.” Lives have been saved.”

“He was very emotional,” Mr. Pereira said. “He was a typical engineer with a pocket protector and pencil and pen, but he taught me what it meant to be a safety engineer.”

mr bateman was included in National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005 and Received National Medal of Technology and in 2011 from the current Barack Obama “for developing and championing innovation in flight-safety sensors, such as ground proximity warning and wind-shear detection systems, now used by more than 55,000 aircraft worldwide.”

Bob Champion, a former Honeywell scientist who worked with Mr. Bateman, said in a telephone interview: “Don had a true passion for saving lives. He was a peach, but behind closed doors, while we were hashing things out, he could have been a pit bull.

Mr. Bateman was a pilot in his own right, flying a single-engine Cessna 182.

“He never lost his childhood wonder about flying,” Ms. McCaslin said by phone. “He did a lot of his great things from his 40s. He started flying and running in his 40s and went on to do 50 marathons. And he had his last one at 54.

Charles Donald Bateman was born on March 8, 1932, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His father, George, repaired watches and owned 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 9 years old, when a friend of his looked out his classroom window in Saskatoon and saw debris and people falling from the sky. Two military aircraft with 10 people on board collided mid-air. Don and his friend leave school early and rush to the accident site.

“I’ve never seen human blood before,” he told The Seattle Times in 2012, “it was horrible.”

After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering, Mr. Bateman worked as a television repair technician and owned a TV repair shop. He was hired by Boeing in 1958, then two years later transferred to United Control, an aircraft electronics company. The company’s aviation instruments business is now part of Honeywell.

mr bateman told the National Science and Technology Medal Foundation in 2011 that in the late 1960s there were fatal accidents almost every month during which a pilot “flew into something like a mountain, or skidded short of the runway.”

At that time, pilots used altimeters, which measure altitude, terrain charts, and visual cues to avoid accidents. “But in poor visibility and clouds, those signals were less effective,” Dr. Hassan Shahidi, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, said in an interview.

Determined to do something, Mr. Bateman developed – and in 1974 patented – his first ground proximity warning system: a small box that integrated data from within the aircraft, including the radar altimeter and airspeed indicator, and gave the pilot Gives a 15 second warning. close to a dangerous situation.

The device was in limited use in 1971 when Alaska Airlines Flight 1866 – a Boeing 727 jet using an early version of the system – slammed into a fog-shrouded mountain in the Chilkat Range in Alaska while on landing approach in Juneau. . Capital. All 111 people aboard were killed.

Two weeks later, Mr. Bateman followed the same route of Flight 1866 as a passenger aboard a smaller plane equipped with his device. The alarm sounded within seconds, giving the pilot enough time to take off. But Mr Bateman felt this was not enough time for the Alaska Airlines pilot to react.

“I was disappointed,” he told in 2016. “We needed to do better.”

He has done. In 1974, the system had improved enough for the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate its installation on all domestic aircraft, providing early warning. The agency took action that year after a TWA flight crashed into a wooded slope in Virginia, killing 92 people, an incident that prompted a congressional panel to criticize the agency for delaying measures to improve airline safety. inspired to do.

In the 1990s, the system improved rapidly. Engineers working with Mr. Bateman combined GPS and important terrain data, including topographic maps of Eastern Europe and China, which had been produced by the Soviet Union in the 1920s; They were acquired in Russia at the request of Mr. Bateman.

“We knew, as engineers, that if we could get terrain data, we could do a lot,” he told The Seattle Times.

seriously, Renamed Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, or EGPWS, gave pilots a two-minute warning about obstacles ahead. In 2000, after several major commercial airlines had already begun using the system, the FAA required that it be installed in all registered turbine-powered airplanes with six or more passenger seats.

In addition to Ms. McCaslin, Mr. Bateman is survived by his wife, Mary (Contreras) Bateman; another daughter, Wendy Bastien; two sons, Greg and Patrick; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His marriage to Joan Burney ended in divorce. Dan, the third son, died in 1988.

In 2015, Mr Bateman wrote rear view magazine, An airline safety publication, nearly six recent, independently investigated incidents in which warning systems averted disaster.

For example, in 2014, the crew of a Saab 2000 twin-engine turboprop lost control of the aircraft near Sumburgh, Scotland, after failing to recognize that the autopilot was still on after a lightning strike. But, Mr Bateman wrote, the crew “overcame a high rate of descent towards the sea surface following EGPWS warnings”.

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