Are you one of those that have sometimes thought “what would I do if I am on a plane and something happens to the pilot?” I got to test fly the Autoland as a guest of Garmin.
Well, when it comes to commercial airliners this may sound like straight out of the realm of science-fiction, but what imagine for a second that you are flying on a small private plane, the sort that an amateur pilot friend may invite you to take a ride in, or perhaps you are on a joy-ride panoramic flight.
“The chances are still low, but a quick headline search would quickly tell that this is by no means an unthinkable scenario, in fact there have been a number of general aviation incidents along these lines.”
Is this type of scenario that Garmin had in mind when it developed the Garmin Autoland.
This is an autopilot system for general aviation aircraft that can land you safely whenever something happens to the pilot. The beauty of it is that at the press of a button the system can be activated. It can also activate itself when the system considers the circumstances that require it.
Upon activation, the Autoland system is smart enough to be able to calculate a new flight plan to the nearest available airport, communicate with air traffic control (ATC), conduct the approach and land. It can also keep a holding pattern if, for whatever reason, it is necessary to wait before landing is allowed. Once on land, it brakes and shuts down the engine too.
All of this is reversible, as the pilot can retake back control at any time, let’s say, if, for example, he regains conscience.
Throughout these maneuvers, Autoland is also able to communicate with passengers on the plane and keep them informed about what is going on. These passengers can also communicate directly with ATC by following instructions that appear on an easy-to-understand touch screen.
We had the chance to see the Garmin Autoland for real in a visit to the firm’s testing facilities in Olathe, Kansas.
The airplane, a Piper M600 took off for a short flight over the Kansas plains. Once we had reached altitude, the pilot pressed the Autoland activation button…hands-off the controls and…there we went! The aircraft started to fly all by himself, working out the best path for our return to base (in the face of some seriously dark approaching storm clouds).
Smooth as silk: 10 minutes after activation, the Autoland got us back on the tarmac, just as the first drops of rain started to hit the runway.