by Jet Fabara
412th Test Wing Public Affairs
11/20/2012 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Since
the beginning of the partnership between the Department of Defense,
NASA and Lockheed Martin, the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance
System has evolved into an instrument intended to keep civilian and
military aircrew members fit to fly and fight another day.
More than 25 years later, team members from the 416th Flight Test
Squadron continue to test that life-saving technology in order to see it
fully integrated and implemented into the Air Force's fourth generation
"Controlled flight into terrain, or CFIT, has proven to be a significant
contributor to loss of life and aircraft in the U.S. Air Force fighter
aircraft fleet. Between 1992 and 2004 there were 34 F-16 CFIT mishaps
with 24 fatalities in the U.S. Air Force. The Auto GCAS was developed
under the Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology program to reduce the
number of CFITs in direct response to a Secretary of Defense-mandated
75-percent reduction of DOD mishaps," said Jessica Peterson, 416 FLTS
flight dynamics lead.
"From the combat effectiveness standpoint, each aircraft lost to CFIT is
one less asset combatant commanders have to employ during wartime.
Clearly, that impacts our national security," added Lt. Col. Robert
Ungerman, 416 FLTS director of operations. "From the human standpoint,
nothing destroys morale like losing a squadron mate and friend. Families
and friends are devastated with each F-16 fatality we experience. The
prevention of CFIT mishaps will avoid that anguish for dozens of
spouses, parents, and children of lost pilots."
According to the flight dynamics team, the Auto GCAS is designed to
prevent CFIT mishaps by executing an automatic recovery maneuver when
terrain impact is imminent. The system predicts CFIT conditions by means
of a continuous comparison between a trajectory prediction and a
terrain profile that is generated from onboard terrain elevation data.
At the instant the predicted trajectory touches the terrain profile, the
automatic recovery is executed by the Auto GCAS autopilot. The
automatic recovery consists of an abrupt roll-to-upright and a nominal
5-g pull until terrain clearance is assured. The Auto GCAS recovery
maneuver can be terminated at any time by the pilot.
"The Auto GCAS was not only designed to prevent CFIT, but to not
interfere during normal F-16 operational maneuvers such as strafing
missions and low-level flights," added Peterson. "Furthermore, since
spatial disorientation is a common cause of CFIT mishaps, the Pilot
Activated Recovery System, or PARS, was designed to provide a
disoriented pilot with a way to manually engage an automated recovery."
The Air Force Research Laboratory, in partnership with the NASA Dryden
Flight Research Center, Lockheed Martin Aero and the Air Force Flight
Test Center initially demonstrated the feasibility of integrating an
Auto GCAS and a PARS into the F-16 during the Fighter Risk Reduction
Project in 2010, conducting more than 2,000 auto-recoveries.
"Although there are other automatic systems in development for other
platforms, nothing has been implemented at this point," Peterson said.
"Since 2010, minor changes have been made to increase the protection
envelope and decrease nuisance potential by making adjustments to the
trajectory predictions, automatic recoveries, altitude buffers and the
The F-16 design try out flight test program has been ongoing at the 416 FLTS since fall 2011.
"In the end, Auto GCAS is an amazing compilation of technologies that
will provide the final safety net should a pilot ever unknowingly put
the aircraft in danger of hitting the ground," said Maj. Kyle Schlappi,
416 FLTS Auto GCAS project test pilot. "Once AGCAS is fully fielded, I
imagine we'll see an abrupt decrease in fatal F-16 accidents as the CFIT
rate drops to nearly zero. To the warfighter, and the warfighter's
family, Auto GCAS provides significant peace of mind to know such a
capable system is keeping our pilots safe."
The F-16 Auto GCAS is projected to save the U.S. Air Force 14 F-16
aircraft, 10 personnel, and $530 million over the future life of the
F-16, according to Peterson. The system is expected to be fielded on all
U.S. Air Force Block 40/42/50/52 F-16s by spring 2014, which totals
approximately 640 aircraft.