Automatic landing systems using radio guidance have been a feature of large airlines for quite some time now, but there has never been a landing quite like this!
Researchers show a test flight in which a Diamond DA42 fitted with an experimental optical positioning system successfully nails an entirely automated landing – much to the relief of the test pilot. You can see his hand tentatively hovering around the controls as he is ready to take back control of the aircraft!
In most aircraft, automated landings primarily rely on a technology called the Instrument Landing System(ILS), which uses analog signals and onboard autopilot to guide aircraft in on their final approach.
To get around this problem, and to realise the dream of a reliable, safe, fully autonomous aircraft landing system, a team led by researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has been developing an alternative that does much the same thing as ILS, but without needing any ground-based antennas.
Called 'C2Land', the team's experimental system uses GPS for flight control in tandem with a vision-augmented navigation system for landing.
The computer vision system – which processes both visible light and infrared in case visibility is poor due to sunlight, haze, or mist – enables C2Land to recognise the runway and calculate a virtual glide path for the landing approach.
As the video shows, Wimmer does not take control of the aircraft during the landing, letting the engaged automated system take care of the entire approach and touchdown.
"The cameras already recognise the runway at a great distance from the airport," said Wimmer.
"The system then guides the aircraft through the landing approach on a completely automatic basis and lands it precisely on the runway's centreline."
Of course, it will be some time before this kind of system gets used in anything other than experimental tests, but the researchers say that's the way the industry is headed.
"Automatic landing is essential, especially in the context of the future role of aviation," said TUM flight system dynamics researcher Martin Kügler.