It had to happen. General aviation autopilots have been advancing at such a pace that it is now possible to install a switch on light aircraft that will take over from the pilot, fly to the nearest suitable airport and land on it.
This must be great comfort to all those non-pilots who wondered what would happen if their pilot had a heart attack – or became disoriented in cloud and threw his hands up in despair.
Garmin’s Emergency Autoland system is described as the third layer of autonomous automation in the ‘Autonomi suite’ that’s built into the G3000 integrated flight deck. In an emergency the pilot and passengers can engage Autoland with a single button push (or the system will activate itself if it senses the pilot has checked out). The system identifies the nearest suitable airport, flies a precision GPS approach and lands on that runway all the while considering weather, terrain, obstacles and aircraft performance capabilities.
Once activated, other factors taken into consideration when identifying the most suitable field (with a hard surface and a GPS approach with vertical guidance) include runway length and the amount of fuel onboard, plus it communicates the emergency on the appropriate ATC or Unicom facility. The system is only intended for use during an emergency— pilot incapacitation, as one example—and it can be disconnected at any time with the autopilot disengage switch.
Passengers don’t have to first work out how to use the G3000 flight displays. Autoland provides simple on-screen visual cues and verbally communicates the intentions even advising how to talk on the radio should they want to, and how to operate the cabin door once the plane has landed and stopped its engine. The automation— which includes autothrottle—automatically controls, the flaps, the landing gear and has automatic braking and even the cabin pressurization system, if there is one.
If the aircraft needs additional time to properly commence the instrument approach to landing, Autoland automatically climbs and it can fly a standard holding pattern, while the autothrottle manages speed and altitude. Once on the runway, automatic braking is applied and the system tracks the runway centreline while bringing the aircraft to a stop.
Garmin says the Autoland will soon be available as part of the G3000 flight deck on the Piper M600 SLS and also on the Cirrus Vision Jet models for 2020. At press time, both are pending final FAA certification, and the system will be blanketed under the specific aircraft’s type certification. They have not yet said how much it will cost – and whether it will replace the parachute on the Visionjet.