In this week's (Aug 2) edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology is a detailed feature about the development and testing of Auto-GCAS – automatic ground collision avoidance system. Designed to dramatically cut the number of mishaps to fighter-attack aircraft caused primarily by controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), it was developed by a team involving the U.S, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Flight Test Center, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and Lockheed Martin. (Click here to see an interactive graphic explaining some of the basic technology behind the system. Try back later if it doesn’t work at first.)
Now, after exhaustive flight testing, Auto-GCAS is about to be handed over to the F-16 SPO for the start of operational tests. Before it got this far, however, Aviation Week was invited to sample a demonstration flight on the team's F-16 testbed.
This was to be a flight like no other I’d ever experienced. Its purpose was to demonstrate a system designed to activate at the last split second when faced with certain ground impact. To make this as realistic as possible, the flight involved a lot of low altitude, high-speed, in-the-weeds flying as well as a large amount of medium altitude combat maneuvering.
To prepare for the flight I was required to undergo a physical, before spending a day of egress training, system familiarization and program briefings. Here are some images of the day, and a short video clip to illustrate the simulator – and the HUD symbology associated with the Auto-GCAS system.
Helped by Phil Wellner I am kitted out with g-suit, flying suit and chute harness. (AFRL/NASA)
Egress training – disconnect everything and leap out by the count of 20. Took me three goes but I got it in the end. (AFRL/NASA)
Parachute training had the feel of a public execution, but using the virtual reality goggles I learned how to steer into the wind for a landing in the event of an ejection. (AFRL/NASA)
Survival training. A crash course on the use of flares, radios, reflecting mirrors, life rafts, shelters, water purification and a host of other useful items – including what desert ‘critters’ to avoid, and even suggestions about those you might need to eat! (AFRL/NASA)
Pilots and engineers can perfect Auto-GCAS responses in a fixed-base sim at NASA Dryden. Here I run through a few aspects of the next day’s flight. (AFRL/NASA)
Watch this clip for a flavor of what the pilot sees and the cues provided on the HUD by Auto-GCAS. Note the warning chevrons. (Guy Norris/YouTube)
Auto-GCAS symbology (AFRL/NASA)