Warplanes: Robotic Co-Pilot Allowed to Take the Controls


August 6, 2007: To save combat pilots from flying into the ground, the U.S. Air Force has developed, over the last decade, a robotic pilot, which takes over the flight controls if it appears the aircraft is about to hit the ground at high speed. For decades, aircraft have been equipped with "collision warning" systems, that generated verbal warnings like "pull up, pull up" when aircraft were flying too low, and seemed in danger of hitting the ground. However, in combat, pilots flying on the deck tend to ignore the automated "pull up" warning. That's because the pilot knows he is flying low, and has to in order to carry out some types of attacks. The pilot depends on flying skill to avoid hitting ground. Sometimes that isn't enough. Most of aircraft losses these days are not in combat, but simply result from aircraft flying low for training, or simply while landing, and crashing. The air force expects to lose about five aircraft a year, over the next few decades, because of these low altitude disasters.

The new system, Auto-GCAS (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System), is software, that uses existing sensors and flight controls to determine when to intervene, and get the aircraft out of danger. The new system is expected to prevent most of these "flying into the ground" type accidents, at least for F-16, F-22 and F-35 aircraft that are getting the system first.


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