Aircraft

German tech may bring automatic landings to small airports

German tech may bring automati...
The team's modified Diamond DA42 aircraft uses the system to make an automatic landing
The team's modified Diamond DA42 aircraft uses the system to make an automatic landing
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The team's modified Diamond DA42 aircraft uses the system to make an automatic landing
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The team's modified Diamond DA42 aircraft uses the system to make an automatic landing
As the plane nears the airport, onboard image-processing software analyzes the cameras' video, determining where the plane is relative to the runway
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As the plane nears the airport, onboard image-processing software analyzes the cameras' video, determining where the plane is relative to the runway

Big commercial aircraft are already routinely guided in for automatic landings at large airports, as their autopilot follows radio signals transmitted by ground-based antennas. Such auto-landings currently aren't possible at most small airports, although that could be about to change, thanks to a new German-designed system.

The technology is being developed as part of the German federal government's C2Land program, in a collaboration between the Technical University of Munich and Technische Universität Braunschweig.

It relies partially on GPS, which it uses to guide small private aircraft towards small-airport runways even in low-visibility conditions … generally, at least. The problem is, the supplied coordinates aren't exact or reliable enough to put the plane right on the runway, so the pilot would still have to take manual control before the aircraft touched down – if the system were using GPS alone, that is.

As the plane nears the airport, onboard image-processing software analyzes the cameras' video, determining where the plane is relative to the runway
As the plane nears the airport, onboard image-processing software analyzes the cameras' video, determining where the plane is relative to the runway

For that reason, the aircraft is also equipped with both a visible-light and an infrared camera. As the plane nears the airport, onboard image-processing software analyzes the cameras' video (pictured above), determining where the plane is relative to the runway. Combined with the GPS data, this information is used by the aircraft's autopilot to guide it safely into a landing.

The system was field-tested in late May, when it was successfully used to land a modified Diamond DA42 at a small airfield. That landing can be seen in the video below.

"The cameras already recognize the runway at a great distance from the airport," said test pilot Thomas Wimmer. "The system then guides the aircraft through the landing approach on a completely automatic basis and lands it precisely on the runway's centerline."

Source: Technical University of Munich

Vollautomatische Landung mit optisch unterstützter Navigation für Kleinflugzeuge

4 comments
HighlanderJuan
There appear to be two anomalies with this idea. The first is that there is required an onboard digital computational resource, and the second is that this removes the pilot from the process. What happens if the digital system goes sideways? Aircraft pilots require many hours of actual flight time, an important part of which is take-off and landing experience. Why? Experience is necessary in case something goes wrong. I suspect that like the self driving cars, this self landing process may (or will) lead to the self flying airplane, and while this may ultimately be a good thing, it may still lead to huge problems in the interim. But, unlike cars, planes have a long way 'down' if something goes sideways in the air. There is that nagging third dimension that one must deal with. And now that we have seen the self driving cars with sleeping 'drivers' will that also happen with pilots and planes? This whole idea needs a lot more thinking and experience before it can be trusted. In my opinion.
mediabeing
That is so cool! It's a tiny glimpse of the future. Mighty cool.
ljaques
The bot greased it! Well done, techies. Now for lots and lots of testing under extreme a/o busy conditions.
Biker Bill
The whole object of flying for most private pilots is to actually take-off, fly around, and then land the airplane themselves. If you need an ILS like system to actually land the airplane for you, then you need to reevaluate your passion for flying and just use UBER.