Remembering Don Bateman, Whose Inventions Save Lives

    The late engineer invented a system used today on planes that warns flight crews of potential collisions with terrain or structures.

    The next time you fly on a commercial plane, know that the inventions of the late Honeywell engineer Don Bateman helped get you to your destination safely.

    Bateman, who retired from Honeywell in 2016, died at 91 in Bellevue, Washington, on May 21.

    Throughout his decades-long career, Bateman saved lives by introducing groundbreaking technologies to help flight crews avoid preventable aviation accidents. He received numerous patents for aviation safety technologies and was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

    Bateman created the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), which provides flight crews with timely, accurate information about terrain and obstacles in the area, reducing the risk of colliding with terrain, especially when pilots fly in low-visibility conditions. 

    The EGPWS uses various aircraft inputs and an internal database to predict and warn flight crews of potential conflicts. Honeywell has produced about 65,000 EGPWS boxes that are installed on planes around the world today.

    The EGPWS is the successor of Bateman’s original invention, the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS), which gave pilots an audible warning to avoid fatal collisions with terrain, such as trees, a mountain, or the ground.

    A legacy of innovation

    When Bateman’s younger daughter, Katherine McCaslin, was growing up, boarding a plane with her dad meant learning about all the ways engineers had made improvements to planes to make flying safer.

    “He always credited the people who came before him,” McCaslin said. “He'd look back and say that aviation is built on the shoulders of so many great innovators. He really felt like his work at Honeywell was standing on the shoulders of giants to make an impact.”

    Bateman’s dedication to saving lives by making aviation safer is what led him to form a team of “mavericks” – a group of engineers with a unique passion for what they were building, and a strong sense of purpose. 

    Thea Feyereisen, now an advanced tech senior fellow, was one of Bateman’s team members. She joined Honeywell in 1995. Feyereisen, a pilot with a background in human factors, the study of how people can interact with aviation technology and enhance aviation safety, knew of Bateman’s legacy before joining his team in the early 2000s.

    Feyereisen first met Bateman while she worked on a research project that used the EGPWS’ terrain database to improve synthetic vision, which gives pilots a 3D view to help them navigate.  

    She remembers her former boss as someone who wasn’t afraid to speak up, but also as someone with a clever sense of humor and who was humble and welcoming.

    “He really valued diverse backgrounds and viewpoints,” she said. 

    He carried those values to his team, she said.

    “I think the word ‘mavericks’ itself speaks volumes and serves as a reminder that it's OK to challenge and have intellectual debates,” Feyereisen said. 

    Ishihara and Bateman hold an EGPWS box, circa Bateman's retirement from Honeywell in 2016. 

    Yasuo Ishihara was also a part of Bateman’s team. They worked together for more than 20 years. 

    “I was a graduate student at the time, getting ready to graduate, when my professor handed me Don Bateman’s business card,” Ishihara said.

    Bateman hired Ishihara after his graduation.

    “I’m really honored to have gotten to know and work for Don at the beginning of my career. I learned the importance of believing in what you do, and also the importance of working as a team player chasing a common goal,” Ishihara said. “He helped me grow and gave me challenging tasks, regardless of my years of experience. That’s all because of his leadership and vision and trust in people in his group.” 

    Ishihara remembers Bateman as a leader who encouraged his team to do what could be done at any given moment to make flying safer, then improve the products as time progressed. Ishihara carries this philosophy to his work now as an aerospace fellow focusing on the Honeywell Anthem flight deck.

    “If we have something that we can do today that can save lives when it’s installed on airplanes, we should do it,” Ishihara said of Bateman’s approach to innovation. 

    Ishihara added that Bateman was not only an engineer who was respected, admired and trusted by all who knew him – which he experienced firsthand while accompanying Bateman at industry events around the world – but he also served as a “father figure.”

    “In our travels, I got to know about his family and share about my family. When my parents came to visit the US from Japan, [Bateman] invited them to his home for lunch, even though they don’t speak English,” Ishihara said. “He really listened to people, and he was very gentle. That’s why I really admire him. I tell people that when I grow up, I want to be the next Don Bateman.” 

    Reflecting on her dad’s career, McCaslin said she remembers how proud he was of his team members at Honeywell.

    “My dad was so appreciative of the way he had the space to innovate at Honeywell,” McCaslin said. “He felt that he worked with best-in-class people, and that included everyone who supported him over the years, from his team of engineers to human resources teams and administrators.” 

    She added: “My dad saw aviation as magic and raised us to love flying and travel, as well as the sense that there's always the opportunity to innovate and make something better.”