Note: This article was written on the day that we flew in a Piper M600 outfitted with Autoland. Since then, both Cirrus, with its SF-50 Vision Jet and Daher, with its TBM 940, have announced Autoland as a feature. All three are now certificated, as well
Early this morning, October 30, 2019, Garmin, Piper and Cirrus officially introduced Autoland, a safety utility that will land your plane for you. I flew a Piper M600 with the system in it more than a month ago at Garmin’s Olathe, Kansas, flight test center, and I was blown away by it. And make no mistake: This system will change everything. Here’s why.
The system is part of Garmin’s suite of safety utilities, two of which, Emergency Descent Mode and ESP envelope protection, we already know about and are on thousands of planes. This third leg, which Garmin calls Autoland, adds automatic landing to that suite, which overall is called Autonomi. And let’s not fool ourselves. Autonomi will be getting more features. We just don’t know what they are yet, though the speculation will surely begin today.
Autoland is remarkable. And before I start describing its features, start this reading by forgetting everything you thought was true was about Autoland. This system is far, far more capable than any autoland features in even the most sophisticated airliners. I have flown an autoland sequence in a Boeing 777 Level D simulator, and that technology is positively prehistoric compared to Garmin’s version. This is the future.
A few things:
- Autoland is an emergency-only utility. You can’t use it in a non-emergency. It actually calls ATC if you activate it and declares an emergency for you.
- It’s not just “Autoland.” It also automatically detects pilot incapacitation, automatically chooses the best airport to land at, configures the plane for landing, including flaps, gear and thrust, and it stops the plane on the runway and shuts off the engine.
- To do all of the above, Autoland needs to have factory installed (for now, factory installed) hardware that includes autopilot (obviously), autothrottle, radar altimeter, and brake by wire. It’s about as far from a mere software upgrade as imaginable (though that is a part of it, too).
- The system is designed to go into a automatic landing mode that changes the way all of the flight instruments are displayed and communicates directly with the passengers in messages and graphics that non-pilots can understand. The assumption is, the pilot is incapacitated, and the passengers will be extremely concerned. Autoland answers all of their questions and prepares them for landing and a quick deplaning.
In my flight with Autoland I experienced in a Piper M600 the complete sequence of the system (with the exception of engine shutdown). The system picked an airport to land at, conveniently the one we’d just departed from, configured the plane for landing and put it down on the center stripe, getting it stopped in minimal distance with only a slight deviation from the centerline.
Autoland is very close to certification on the Piper M600 and Cirrus SF-50 Vision Jet and at least one other aircraft from another manufacturer we are not at liberty to name yet.
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