Imagine that you are flying along in your own aircraft when, suddenly, the engine stops and you are not able to revive it. Now what?

If you have plenty of altitude, you can hit the button on that expensive aviation-dedicated GPS that will produce a list of the closest airports (not necessarily the closest airfield and certainly not the most suitable landing site) and based on your height and the distance to the airport, you alone get to decide if you can make it. If you are down low or your aircraft has the glide performance of a brick, the decision would be limited to picking a cleared field or road somewhere underneath you, right now .... not a satisfactory system at a time of high stress. And consider the scenario if you were the passenger and your pilot was incapacitated by a heart attack ... or the failure is at night time!

Engine Failure? Just press this button

In what seems such a logical extension of the technologies now available, Laminar Research's Austin Meyer and avionics outfit Vertical Power have come up with a solution that may simply involve punching one button. The Vertical Power VP-400 takes over via auto-pilot (AP) and uses its own built-in GPS, airspeed and attitude sensors as well as its own terrain and obstacle database to find the best emergency runway option.

The VP-400 knows how high you are, how far it is to the nearest airport, the height of any hills or mountains as well as wind speed and direction. The system makes decisions as to which way to turn, how fast or slow the glide speed should be, and the angle of descent to not only reach the airport, but to miss any obstacles.

If you don’t have an AP, you can still hand fly it in terms of airspeed, pitch and bank based on the information provided - information that's collated and refined on a single screen, not shown in about 3 or 4 different locations around the instrument panel.

The VP-400 system is constantly imagining the worst as you fly, re-building about 30 possible engine-out glide approaches per second, each one going from the nose of your airplane to a nearby runway, and memorizing the approach that is most likely to result in a successful landing, and showing you that approach as a series of hoops. And, if you hit the red button, the autopilot servos will engage and the plane will fly those hoops for you - down to an approach gate with a very high predicted success rate.

While all of this might seem somewhat "Star Wars" for those not into current aviation technologies, the components that provide data to that this system are all readily available in the sport aviation/experimental home-built market. The VP-400 ties all of these together and Vertical Power has progressed the software and hardware to the point where real-world testing has begun. The plan is to have it available to the public later this year and while there's no pricing details as yet, it's hoped that the VP-400 will be reasonably affordable. Bring it on!

Vertical Power runs through the VP-400 system in the video below.

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