Symposium presents case study in saving lives

The F-16 test aircraft, shown here flying over Edwards AFB, Calif., proved the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System technology was ready to install on F-16s in the field.  A low risk, low cost integration effort to begin in mid-2014 will install the system on Block 40 and 50 aircraft.

The F-16 test aircraft, shown here flying over Edwards AFB, Calif., proved the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System technology was ready to install on F-16s in the field. A low risk, low cost integration effort to begin in mid-2014 will install the system on Block 40 and 50 aircraft.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- "History has favored those who embraced technology ahead of their adversaries," said Gen. Donald Hoffman, Air Force Materiel Command commander in opening the Air Force Association's Technology Symposium Aug. 26 at the Hope Hotel here. "It's not just the weapons you produce, but how you sustain them."

A case study clearly illustrating the general's remarks was presented early in the agenda.

Since the F-16 was fielded in 1979, 87 aircraft and 69 lives have been lost as a result of controlled flight into terrain, or CFIT.

Now, long after the aircraft development and acquisition phases have passed, technology developed and matured by the Air Force Research Laboratory aims to reduce those mishaps by 98 percent.

The Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, or Auto GCAS, was recently transferred from the test and development phase in the Lab to the Aeronautical Systems Center to be acquired and fielded in Block 40 and Block 50 F-16s throughout the fleet.

A panel consisting of Joe Sciabica, AFRL Executive Director, Brig. Gen. Arnie Bunch, Director and Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Bombers, and Mark Jefferson, of Lockheed Martin, presented the case study.

"Some believe that once the technology is demonstrated, the Lab's work is done," Mr. Sciabica said. "But that is not the case."

The Lab began initial research into Auto GCAS in 1984, but at that time it was still a relatively new concept. In 2005, interest in Auto GCAS by the Defense Safety Oversight Council brought together elements of AFRL, AFMC, Air Combat Command, Lockheed Martin and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center to develop and test the current version.

Today, the Auto GCAS that will be a part of a low-risk, low-cost integration effort in mid-2014 uses an onboard digital terrain map to project an impact and uses the digital flight controller to automatically recover the aircraft.

In addition to the F-16, ASC is beginning work to integrate Auto GCAS on the F-22 and the F-35.

"When you take this technology and integrate into those other platforms, we're estimating it will save hundreds of aircraft, billions of dollars and, more importantly, hundreds of lives when you roll this out into the field," said General Bunch.

Instrumental to the success of Auto GCAS technology, the panel concluded, was the team's perseverance to definitively prove the system was mature, would work and would save lives.

"This is less of a case study in how technology can mature than in how you get perhaps an unwilling customer to embrace technology that statistically has shown a return on investment," General Hoffman said. "[Auto GCAS] will save lives and it will save aircraft and will save a lot more money than it will cost to do it."

AFRL is continuing development of the technology at the heart of Auto GCAS, looking for ways to incorporate it with the analog flight controller on older F-16s. The second phase of the program, the Automatic Air Collision Avoidance System, seeks to avoid air-to-air mishaps.