The future is here, and it is… amazing.
Under tight wraps for eight years, Garmin just announced its new Autoland function, which can take over and land an aircraft completely autonomously.
The system is designed to rescue an airplane with an incapacitated pilot or save a pilot when weather conditions present no other safe option. Autoland should soon receive its first FAA approval, with certification expected shortly in the Piper M600 turboprop, followed by the Cirrus Vision Jet.
Autoland is currently available to manufacturers equipping their airplanes with the Garmin G3000 avionics and autothrottle.
The Garmin Autoland system is part of Garmin’s Autonomi family of automation products, which includes Electronic Stability and Protection and Emergency Descent Mode. The Autoland system is designed to safely fly an airplane from cruising altitude to a suitable runway, then land the airplane, apply brakes, and stop the engine. Autoland can even switch on anti-/deicing systems if necessary.
Garmin’s stock price jumped 10% on October 30, the day of the announcement.
A demo flight, and Garmin Autoland landing, with the press.
Edward C. Baig of the USA Today took a demo flight in a new $2.75M Cirrus Vision Jet outfitted with the Garmin Autoland automatic landing function which Cirrus has aptly branded Safe Return. He is not a pilot of any type, yet he landed the jet. Well, actually the plane landed itself. He merely pressed a single red button on the roof of the main cabin, and watched and listened to the digital copilot as it navigated, communicated, landed the jet, braked to stop, and shut down the engine.
From his article in USA Today:
Safe Return has to able to solve two main problems, the most obvious of which is to return everyone to the ground safely. It must also do so without disrupting the flight patterns or risking the safety of all the other planes in nearby airspace.
“When you automatically turn that plane into an autonomous vehicle, the plane starts acting as if the pilot were still doing things,” says Ben Kowalski, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Cirrus Aircraft.
The plane has databases of the terrain and possible obstacles (like mountains and cell towers). It gets real-time weather and wind information. And it knows the weight, how much fuel remains, and all the nearby airports where an emergency landing is possible, including the lengths of all runways.
After determining the proper path based on all these considerations, the system uses text-to-speech software to broadcast its whereabouts to air traffic control.
Kowalski says it goes something like this: “Aircraft 149 Victor Bravo, we have an emergency onboard. The pilot is incapacitated. I’m 15 miles north of White Plains, and I’m going to land at JFK on runway 27.”
There’s no particular challenge to push the button – it’s easily reached by an adult in the cabin. (The plane seats five adults and two children.) But you can only assume that panic will set in during a real crisis in which the pilot has a heart attack, seizure or something else goes wrong.
The system tries its best to calm everyone down by mimicking what, well, a pilot might say: “Safe Return activated, landing in 13 minutes.” A moment later, “Safe Return activated, landing in 12 minutes.” And so on.
With a touch of a button, a passenger can land the airplane. That is groundbreaking, and very different than what the world has known before.
Soon, an automatic landing function will be available for new versions of two GA turbine aircraft, enabling an autonomous critical sector of a flight, and is just the beginning.
What will tomorrow bring? We have a glimpse, and it is… amazing.
A video by AVweb/Aviation Consumer: Demo flight and landing the Piper M600 turboprop autonomously with Garmin Autoland.
Sources: USA Today, Aviation International News, The Aviation Consumer
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