Technology 3 min read

Autonomous Landing System Allows Aircraft to Land Without Ground Support

Screen grab from TUMuenchen YouTube channel

Screen grab from TUMuenchen YouTube channel

A team of German researchers has developed an autonomous landing system for small aircraft. Not only would this new tech enable planes to land without a pilot, but the landing system on the ground would also be completely unnecessary.

This could open a new era of autonomous flight.

You’ve heard it said that airplanes practically fly themselves, and yes they can land automatically too. However, despite the level of sophistication of current autopilot systems, the autonomous landing has remained out of reach.

In other words, airplanes still require airport guidance through radio signal – the Instrument Landing System – before they can touch down. With this signal, the pilot will know exactly where the runway is, regardless of how poor visibility is.

Since the airport is practically flying the plane by wire, we can’t call it an autonomous system, can we? Well, that’s about to change.

The researchers at Technische Universität München have just developed a system that could make actual autonomous landing a reality. The team designed and showed off an aircraft that could land itself using a combination of computer vision and GPS, without relying on ground systems.

Developing an Autonomous Landing System

For a plane to land autonomously, it must know exactly where the runway is without depending entirely on GPS, ILS, or any other ground system. So, the researchers fitted a Diamond DA42 with “eyes,” which include visible-light as well as infrared cameras.

They also added other custom-designed automatic control systems, including a computer vision processor called C2Land. Then they trained the computer to recognize a runway using the cameras before taking the plane in for a flawless landing back in May.

In a press release, test pilot Thomas Wimmer said:

“The cameras already recognize the runway at a great distance from the airport. The system then guides the aircraft through the landing approach on a completely automatic basis and lands it precisely on the runway’s centerline.”

This could change the way we fly for good.

Until now, we’ve depended on an extensive ground-based system in landing planes. That means autonomous landing is impossible when the ILS is damaged or in smaller airports without the feature.

With the new autonomous landing system, pilots can land their plane even in conditions with the lowest visibility.

With that said, the tech is still experimental. The researchers have neither distributed it nor perform a more extensive test. Also, it’s still a long way from being certified by aviation authorities.

Read More: The Era of Electric Airplanes is Here

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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