Weapons maker Lockheed Martin Corp. takes pride in announcing that its Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, or GCAS, helped save the life of 10 pilots and nine F-16 fighter jets—since the system entered service with the U.S. Air Force in late 2014.
GCAS is a technology designed to save a pilot from crashing into the ground in the event of a sudden loss of consciousness or target fixation by activating and taking control from the pilot to return the plane to safe altitude.
The Auto GCAS utilizes sensors on the plane, terrain data and other various on-board monitors to determine a probable ground collision. Based on the plane’s trajectory, speed, and lack of input from the pilot, the system then calculates the best way to recover to a safe trajectory.
The Auto GCAS, developed jointly by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is designed to reduce incidents of what is known as controlled flight into terrain, or CFIT. According to U.S. Air Force statistics, CFIT incidents account for 26 percent of aircraft losses and a staggering 75 percent of all F-16 pilot fatalities.
According to Ed Griffin, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ program manager for the Automatic Collision Avoidance Technologies (ACAT) Fighter Risk Reduction Program, the system consists of a set of complex collision avoidance and autonomous decision making algorithms that utilize precise navigation, aircraft performance and on-board digital terrain data to determine if a ground collision is imminent. If the system predicts an imminent collision, an autonomous avoidance maneuver—a roll to wings-level and +5g pull—is commanded at the last instance to prevent ground impact.
The Auto GCAS executes in the background and automatically provides protection whether the pilot is distracted, task-saturated, incapacitated, or unconscious. No action is required by the pilot, though the system does have a pilot override function.
“Based on the data we’ve seen so far, the Auto GCAS is doing exactly what it was designed to do: save priceless lives and valuable military aircraft,” said Griffin. “Many aviation professionals believe autonomy is emerging as the new frontier in aviation and Auto GCAS currently represents the leading edge of autonomy as it applies to manned platforms.”
A Trusted Autonomous System
The Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System has now saved 10 pilots and 9 F-16s. Learn how this life-saving technology helps ensure pilots come home safely after every flight.
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) May 14, 2020
The Auto GCAS capability is currently operating on more than 600 U.S. Air Force F-16 Block 40/50 aircraft worldwide. Auto GCAS flight testing was also recently completed on U.S. Air National Guard F-16 Block 30 aircraft and the capability is expected to be fielded on that fleet in 2020. Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) completed F-35 Auto GCAS integration and flight testing in 2018 and plan to begin fielding this proven life-saving technology in June 2019. The Auto GCAS will ultimately protect more than 3,200 F-35s and their pilots worldwide. The F-35 Joint Program Office estimates the Auto GCAS will prevent more than 26 ground collisions during the service of the F-35 fleet.
In addition to the Auto GCAS, Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Government have also developed an Automatic Air Collision Avoidance System (Auto ACAS). As its name suggest, Auto ACAS is designed to avoid air-to-air collisions. Together, the two systems form the Automatic Integrated Collision Avoidance System (Auto ICAS), the world’s first fully automatic integrated combat flight safety system designed to prevent both air-to-air and air-to-ground collisions.