Automatic landings at outback airstrips are now a prospect, with the demonstration of a machine-vision based autoland system for general aviation aircraft that requires no ground infrastructure.
Researchers from the technical Universities of Braunschweig and Munich, in Germany have been working on the C2Land project with the support of the German Federal Government.
The Braunschweig team designed an optical reference system using a visible light camera and an infrared camera that can see in low visibility conditions. Specially developed image processing software lets the system determine where the aircraft is relative to the runway based on information from the cameras.
The Munich team developed the automatic control system for the research aircraft, a modified Diamond DA-42. The aircraft was already equipped with two systems developed by the university: a fly-by-wire flight control system and a digital autopilot with greater control authority than an off-the-shelf autopilot connected mechanically to the controls. For automatic landing, additional functions were added to the software, including comparison of data from the cameras with GPS signals, and calculation of a virtual glide path for landing approach.
Last month the C2Land project announced a successful test landing by the DA-42 at Wiener Neustadt in Austria. The aircraft lined up, lowered flaps, gear and flared without pilot input. However, as a system integrated with fly-by-wire and an advanced autopilot, it is not retrofittable to current general aviation aircraft.
‘Automatic landing is essential, especially in the context of the future role of aviation,’ Technical University of Munich research associate Martin Kügler said. He nominated automated freight aircraft and autonomous flying taxis as two future aviation sectors that would require the technology.
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