It’s Not That Far Away

Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2019 Issue

With winter nearly upon us, it’s the time of the year when those who continue to fly begin to wonder how they will find the runway under low visibility conditions. What if you have a little help in finding the runway and then landing precisely and consistently, even in the low visibility conditions? Would you want that help?

Soon, this help will come via an onboard “autoland” system, or a combination of an autoland system and a very skilled pair of hands and eyes. Imagine how great it would be to have an autoland system in your GA aircraft!

Well that dream is not that far away. The German federal government’s project called the “C2Land Program,” in a collaboration with Technical University of Munich and Technische Universität Braunschweig, has developed the technology for an autoland capable GA aircraft. The system utilizes GPS in part to guide the aircraft to the GA airport runway and it can do so in low-visibility conditions.

The only problem with that is the supplied GPS coordinates aren’t always exact and thus are not reliable to put an aircraft down and centered on the proper runway. It would then require the pilot to take manual control before touch down if the system was running only via GPS. But by adding some additional technology and combining that input data with the GPS data, the system is able to accurately guide the GA aircraft to a safe landing.

The additional technology includes both a visible-light and an infrared camera. Image processing software analyzes the cameras’ video and is able to accurately display the aircraft’s position relative to the runway, as the aircraft approaches the runway. It combines the visual data with the GPS data and is then able to provide the autopilot with more precise data, thus leading the aircraft to a safe landing, even in low visibility situations.

The system was installed on a Diamond DA42 Twin Star, which was flown successfully to a perfect landing. Thomas Wimmer, the test pilot for the project said, “The cameras already recognize the runway at a great distance from the airport.” He added, “The system then guides the aircraft through the landing approach on a completely automatic basis and lands it precisely on the runway’s centerline.”

So, take heart GA pilots. Someday soon, you too may have an autoland system added to your aircraft to aid you in executing better landings. It is simply a matter of time before the system is operational, and that future is not that far away.

Source: Technical University of Munich.

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