Smaller airports to have autopilot landings soon

Washington: Not only major airports but even smaller airports can now have automatic landings for aircraft.

This comes after researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and TU Braunschweig demonstrated a complete automatic landing with vision assisted navigation that functions properly without the need for ground-based systems.

Not only this, but researchers are looking forward to developing procedures that will allow automatic landing based on satellite navigation.

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“Automatic landing is essential, especially in the context of the future role of aviation,” says Martin Kugler, a research associate at the TUM Chair of Flight System Dynamics.

In the project “C2Land”, TUM researchers have partnered with Technische Universitat Braunschweig to develop a landing system which lets smaller aircraft to land without any assistance from the ground-based systems.

The autopilot uses GPS signals to navigate. The problem with GPS is that signals are susceptible to measurement inaccuracies, for example, due to atmospheric disturbances.

The GPS receiver in the aircraft can’t always reliably detect such interferences. As a result, current GPS approach procedures require the pilots to take over control at an altitude of no less than 60 meters and land the aircraft manually.

In order to make completely automated landings possible, the TU Braunschweig team designed an optical reference system: A camera in the normal visible range and an infrared camera that can also provide data under conditions with poor visibility.

In order to make automatic landings possible, additional functions were integrated into the software, such as comparison of data from the cameras with GPS signals, calculation of a virtual glide path for the landing approach as well as flight control for various phases of the approach.

The team of researchers tested it later in May and was able to watch as the research aircraft made a completely automatic landing at the Diamond Aircraft airfield. Test pilot Thomas Wimmer is completely convinced by the landing system.

“The cameras already recognize the runway at a great distance from the airport. The system then guides the aircraft through the landing approach on a completely automatic basis and lands it precisely on the runway’s centreline,” Wimmer opined.


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