February 12, 1999: C-130 Autonomous Landing Guidance System Testing

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

A test crew conducted a successful C-130 Autonomous Landing Guidance System technology demonstration flight test. The ALG promised to revolutionize air travel by allowing an aircraft to land safely on a prepared runway even in conditions of zero visibility..

Anticipated increases in air traffic volume, as well as economic pressure to reduce airline operating costs are spurring the development of an air transportation system that operates at maximum capacity under all visibility conditions. Several hazards to the safety of flight, however, present themselves or are exacerbated during reduced visibility operations. These hazards include: impact with the terrain surrounding the airport; failure to acquire the intended runway for landing; and failure to detect obstructions that may be on the runway, taxiway or otherwise in the path of the aircraft. For these reasons, the air traffic control system imposes minimum cloud ceiling and runway visibility requirements at airports that mandate under what conditions the airport can accept landing and departing traffic. These minima are designed to ensure that the flight crew has enough information to acquire the correct runway and avoid collision hazards on departure and approach.

In addition, low visibility operations at airports also require that air traffic control separate landing and departing traffic from each other by a greater distance. The net effect of the increased separations is to reduce the number of aircraft the airport can handle in a given time period.

Relaxation of the given minima at an airport is possible if both the aircraft and the airport have sophisticated precision guidance equipment. The precision guidance equipment (e.g. instrument landing system (ILS) or microwave landing systems) improves the confidence with which the aircraft can acquire and maintain the proper flight path to the correct runway. Airports having this precision guidance equipment can enjoy improved capacity during times of low visibility over airports without this equipment. However, this equipment is expensive to acquire and maintain and many airports do not have equipment of this type. Furthermore, these systems require specialized equipment both on board the aircraft and at the airport In addition, use of these systems still do not provide the airport with the same capacity present during times of unrestricted visibility as hazards to flight due to the reduced visibilities still exist.

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