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Autoland systems were designed to make landing possible in visibility too poor to permit any form of visual landing, although they can be used at any level of visibility. They are usually used when visibility is less than 600 meters RVR and/or in adverse weather conditions, although limitations do apply for most aircraft—for example, for a Boeing 747-400 the limitations are a maximum headwind of 25 kts, a maximum tailwind of 10 kts, a maximum crosswind component of 25 kts, and a maximum crosswind with one engine inoperative of five knots. They may also include automatic braking to a full stop once the aircraft is on the ground, in conjunction with the autobrake system, and sometimes auto deployment of spoilers and thrust reversers.
Autoland may be used for any suitably approved Instrument Landing System (ILS) or Microwave Landing System (MLS) approach, and is sometimes used to maintain currency of the aircraft and crew, as well as for its main purpose of assisting an aircraft landing in low visibility and/or bad weather.
Autoland requires the use of a radar altimeter to determine the aircraft's height above the ground very precisely so as to initiate the landing flare at the correct height (usually about 50 feet (15 m)). The localizer signal of the ILS may be used for lateral control even after touchdown until the pilot disengages the autopilot. For safety reasons, once autoland is engaged and the ILS signals have been acquired by the autoland system, it will proceed to landing without further intervention, and can be disengaged only by completely disconnecting the autopilot (this prevents accidental disengagement of the autoland system at a critical moment). At least two and often three independent autopilot systems work in concert to carry out autoland, thus providing redundant protection against failures. Most autoland systems can operate with a single autopilot in an emergency, but they are only certified when multiple autopilots are available.
The autoland system's response rate to external stimuli work very well in conditions of reduced visibility and relatively calm or steady winds, but the purposefully limited response rate means they are not generally smooth in their responses to varying wind shear or gusting wind conditions – i.e. not able to compensate in all dimensions rapidly enough – to safely permit their use.
The first aircraft to be certified to CAT III standards, on 28 December 1968, was the Sud Aviation Caravelle, followed by the Hawker-Siddeley HS.121 Trident in May 1972 (CAT IIIA) and to CAT IIIB during 1975. The Trident had been certified to CAT II on 7 February 1968.
Autoland capability has seen the most rapid adoption in areas and on aircraft that must frequently operate in very poor visibility. Airports troubled by fog on a regular basis are prime candidates for Category III approaches, and including autoland capability on jet airliners helps reduce the likelihood that they will be forced to divert by bad weather.
Autoland is highly accurate. In his 1959 paper  John Charnley, then Superintendent of the UK Royal Aircraft Establishment's Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU), concluded a discussion of statistical results by saying that "It is fair to claim, therefore, that not only will the automatic system land the aircraft when the weather prevents the human pilot, it also performs the operation much more precisely".
Traditionally autoland systems have been very expensive, and have been rare on small aircraft. However, as display technology has developed the addition of a Head Up Display (HUD) allows for a trained pilot to manually fly the aircraft using guidance cues from the flight guidance system. This significantly reduces the cost of operating in very low visibility, and allows aircraft which are not equipped for automatic landings to make a manual landing safely at lower levels of look ahead visibility or runway visual range (RVR). Alaska Airlines was the first airline in the world to manually land a passenger-carrying jet (Boeing 737) in FAA Category III weather (dense fog) made possible with the Head-Up Guidance System 
Commercial aviation autoland was initially developed in Great Britain, as a result of the frequent occurrence of very low visibility conditions in winter in North-west Europe. These occur particularly when anticyclones are in place over central Europe in November/December/January when temperatures are low, and radiation fog forms easily in relatively stable air. The severity of this type of fog was exacerbated in the late 1940s and 1950s by the prevalence of carbon and other smoke particles in the air from coal burning heating and power generation. Cities particularly affected included the main [UK] centres, and their airports such as London Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, as well as European cities such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Zurich and Milan. Visibility at these times could become as low as a few feet (hence the "London fogs" of movie fame) and when combined with the soot created lethal long-persistence smog: these conditions led to the passing of the UK's "Clean Air Act" which banned the burning of smoke-producing fuel.
Post 1945, the British government had established two state-owned airline corporations – British European Airways (BEA) and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), which were subsequently to be merged into today's British Airways. BEA's route network focused on airports in the UK and Europe, and hence its services were particularly prone to disruption by these particular conditions.
During the immediate post-war period, BEA suffered a number of accidents during approach and landing in poor visibility, which caused it to focus on the problems of how pilots could land safely in such conditions. A major breakthrough came with the recognition that in such low visibility the very limited visual information available (lights and so on) was extraordinarily easy to misinterpret, especially when the requirement to assess it was combined with a requirement to simultaneously fly the aircraft on instruments. This led to the development of what is now widely understood as the "monitored approach" procedure whereby one pilot is assigned the task of accurate instrument flying while the other assesses the visual cues available at decision height, taking control to execute the landing once satisfied that the aircraft is in fact in the correct place and on a safe trajectory for a landing. The result was a major improvement in the safety of operations in low visibility, and as the concept clearly incorporates vast elements of what is now known as Crew Resource Management (although predating this phrase by some three decades) it was expanded to encompass a far broader spectrum of operations than just low visibility.
However, associated with this "human factors" approach was a recognition that improved autopilots could play a major part in low visibility landings. The components of all landings are the same, involving navigation from a point at altitude "en route" to a point where the wheels are on the desired runway. This navigation is accomplished using information from either external, physical, visual cues or from synthetic cues such as flight instruments. At all times there must be sufficient total information to ensure that the aircraft's position and trajectory (vertical and horizontal) are correct. The problem with low visibility operations is that the visual cues may be reduced to effectively zero, and hence there is an increased reliance on "synthetic" information. The dilemma faced by BEA was to find a way to operate without cues, because this situation occurred on its network with far greater frequency than on that of any other airline. It was particularly prevalent at its home base – London – which could effectively be closed for days at a time.
The development of autoland
The UK government's aviation research facilities including the Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU) set up during 1945/46 at RAF Martlesham Heath and RAF Woodbridge to research all the relevant factors. The pioneering work by BLEU is described below. BEA's flight technical personnel were heavily involved in BLEU's activities in the development of Autoland for its Trident fleet from the late 1950s. The work included analysis of fog structures, human perception, instrument design, and lighting cues amongst many others. After further accidents, this work also led to the development of aircraft operating minima in the form we know them today. In particular, it led to the requirement that a minimum visibility must be reported as available before the aircraft may commence an approach – a concept that had not existed previously. The basic concept of a "target level of safety" (10-7) and of the analysis of "fault trees" to determine probability of failure events stemmed from about this period.
The basic concept of autoland flows from the fact that an autopilot could be set up to track an artificial signal such as an Instrument Landing System (ILS) beam more accurately than a human pilot could – not least because of the inadequacies of the electro-mechanical flight instruments of the time. If the ILS beam could be tracked to a lower height then clearly the aircraft would be nearer to the runway when it reached the limit of ILS usability, and nearer to the runway less visibility would be required to see sufficient cues to confirm the aircraft position and trajectory. With an angular signal system such as ILS, as altitude decreases all tolerances must be decreased – in both the aircraft system and the input signal – to maintain the required degree of safety. This is because certain other factors – physical and physiological laws which govern for example the pilot's ability to make the aircraft respond – remain constant. For example, at 300 feet above the runway on a standard 3 degree approach the aircraft will be 6000 feet from the touchdown point, and at 100 feet it will be 2000 feet out. If a small course correction needs 10 seconds to be effected, at 180kts it will take 3000 ft. It will be possible if initiated at 300 feet of height, but not at 100 feet. Consequently only a smaller course correction can be tolerated at the lower height, and the system needs to be more accurate.
This imposes a requirement for the GROUND based guidance element to conform to specific standards, as well as the airborne elements. Thus, while an aircraft may be equipped with an autoland system, it will be totally unusable without the appropriate ground environment. Similarly, it requires a crew trained in all aspects of the operation to recognise potential failures in both airborne and ground equipment, and to react appropriately, to be able to use the system in the circumstances from which it is intended. Consequently, the low visibility operations categories (Cat I, Cat II and Cat III) apply to all 3 elements in the landing – the aircraft equipment, the ground environment, and the crew. The result of all this is to create a spectrum of low visibility equipment, in which an aircraft's "autoland" autopilot is just one component.
The development of these systems proceeded by recognising that although the ILS would be the source of the guidance, the ILS itself contains lateral and vertical elements that have rather different characteristics. In particular, the vertical element (glideslope) originates from the projected touchdown point of the approach, i.e. typically 1000 ft from the beginning of the runway, while the lateral element (localiser) originates from beyond the far end. The transmitted glideslope therefore becomes irrelevant soon after the aircraft has reached the runway threshold, and in fact the aircraft has of course to enter its landing mode and reduce its vertical velocity quite a long time before it passes the glideslope transmitter. The inaccuracies in the basic ILS could be seen in that it was suitable for use down to 200 ft. only (Cat I), and similarly no autopilot was suitable for or approved for use below this height.
The lateral guidance from the ILS Localiser would however be usable right to the end of the landing roll, and hence is used to feed the rudder channel of the autopilot after touchdown. As aircraft approached the transmitter its speed is obviously reducing and rudder effectiveness diminishes, compensating to some extent for the increased sensitivity of the transmitted signal. More significantly however it means the safety of the aircraft is still dependent on the ILS during rollout. Furthermore, as it taxis off the runway and down any parallel taxiway, it itself acts a reflector and can interfere with the localiser signal. This means that it can affect the safety of any following aircraft still using the localiser. As a result, such aircraft cannot be allowed to rely on that signal until the first aircraft is well clear of the runway and the "Cat. 3 protected area".
The result is that when these low visibility operations are taking place, operations on the ground affect operations in the air much more than in good visibility, when pilots can see what is happening. At very busy airports, this results in restrictions in movement which can in turn severely impact the airport's capacity. In short, very low visibility operations such as autoland can only be conducted when aircraft, crews, ground equipment and air and ground traffic control ALL comply with more stringent requirements than normal.
The first "commercial development" automatic landings (as opposed to pure experimentation) were achieved through realising that the vertical and lateral paths had different "rules". Although the localiser signal would be present throughout the landing, the glide slope had to be disregarded before touchdown in any event. It was recognised that if the aircraft had arrived at Decision Height (200 ft) on a correct, stable approach path – a prerequisite for a safe landing – it would have momentum along that path. Consequently, the autoland system could discard the glideslope information when it became unreliable (i.e. at 200 ft), and use of pitch information derived from the last several seconds of flight would ensure to the required degree of reliability that the descent rate (and hence adherence to the correct profile) would remain constant. This "ballistic" phase would end at the height when it became necessary to increase pitch and reduce power to enter the landing flare. The pitch change occurs over the runway in the 1000 horizontal feet between the threshold and the glide slope antenna, and so can be accurately triggered by radio altimeter.
Autoland was first developed in BLEU and RAF aircraft, and later for BEA's Trident fleet, which entered service in the early 1960s. The Trident was a 3 engined jet built by de Havilland with a similar configuration to the Boeing 727, and was extremely sophisticated for its time. BEA had specified a "zero visibility" capability for it to deal with the problems of its fog-prone network. It had an autopilot designed to provide the necessary redundancy to tolerate failures during autoland, and it was this design which had "triple redundancy.
This autopilot used three simultaneous processing channels each giving a physical output. The fail-safe element was provided by a "voting" procedure using torque switches, whereby it was accepted that in the event that one channel differed from the other two, the probability of TWO similar simultaneous failures could be discounted and the two channels in agreement would "out-vote" and disconnect the third channel. However, this triple-voting system is by no means the only way to achieve adequate redundancy and reliability, and in fact soon after BEA and de Havilland had decided to go down that route, a parallel trial was set up using a "dual-dual" concept, chosen by BOAC and Vickers for the VC10 4-engined long range aircraft. This concept was later used on the Concorde. Some BAC 1-11 aircraft used by BEA also had a similar system.
Autoland for civil aviation
The earliest experimental autopilot-controlled landings in commercial service were not in fact full auto LANDINGS but were termed "auto-flare". In this mode the pilot controlled the roll and yaw axes manually while the autopilot controlled the "flare" or pitch. These were often done in passenger service as part of the development program. The Trident's autopilot had separate engagement switches for the pitch and roll components, and although the normal autopilot disengagement was by means of a conventional control yoke thumb-button, it was also possible to disengage the roll channel while leaving the pitch channel engaged. In these operations the pilot had acquired full visual reference, normally well above decision height, but instead of fully disengaging the autopilot with the thumb-button, called for the second officer to latch off the roll channel only. He then controlled the lateral flight path manually while monitoring the autopilot's continued control of the vertical flight path – ready to completely disengage it at the first sign of any deviation. While this sounds as if it may add a risk element in practice it is of course no different in principle to a training pilot monitoring a trainee's handling during on-line training or qualification.
Having proven the reliability and accuracy of the autopilot's ability to flare the aircraft safely, the next elements were to add in similar control of the thrust. This was similarly done by a radio altimeter signal which simply drove the autothrottle servos to a flight idle setting. As the accuracy and reliability of the ground based ILS localiser was increased on a step by step basis, it was permissible to leave the roll channel engaged longer and longer, until in fact the aircraft had ceased to be airborne, and a fully automatic landing had in fact been completed. The first such landing in a BEA Trident was achieved at RAE Bedford (by then home of BLEU) in March 1964. The first on a commercial flight with passengers aboard was achieved on flight BE 343 on 10 June 1965, with a Trident 1 G-ARPR, from Paris to Heathrow with Captains Eric Poole and Frank Ormonroyd.
Subsequently autoland systems became available on a number of aircraft types but the primary customers were those mainly European airlines whose networks were severely affected by radiation fog. Early Autoland systems needed a relatively stable air mass and could not operate in conditions of turbulence and in particular gusty crosswinds. In North America it was generally the case that reduced but not zero visibility was often associated with these conditions, and if the visibility really became almost zero in, for example, blowing snow or other precipitation then operations would be impossible for other reasons. As a result neither airlines nor airports placed a high priority on operations in the lowest visibility. The provision of the necessary ground equipment (ILS) and associated systems for Category 3 operations was almost non existent and the major manufacturers did not regard it as a basic necessity for new aircraft. In general during the 1970s and 1980s it was available if a customer wanted it, but at such a high price (due to being a reduced production run item) that few airlines could see a cost justification for it.
(This led to the absurd situation for British Airways that as the launch customer for the Boeing 757 to replace the Trident, the brand-new "advanced" aircraft had inferior all weather operations capability compared to the fleet being broken up for scrap. An indication of this philosophical divide is the comment from a senior Boeing Vice President that he could not understand why British Airways were so concerned about the Category 3 certification, as there were only at that time two or three suitable runways in North America on which it could be fully used. It was pointed out that British Airways had some 12 such runways on its domestic network alone, four of them at its main base at Heathrow.)
In the 1980s and 1990s there was, however, increasing pressure globally from customer airlines for at least some improvements in low visibility operations; both for flight regularity and from safety considerations. At the same time it became evident that the requirement for a true "zero visibility" operation (as originally envisaged in the ICAO Category definitions) had diminished, as "clean air" laws had reduced the adverse effect of smoke adding to radiation fog in the worst affected areas. Improved avionics meant that the technology became cheaper to implement, and manufacturers raised the standard of the "basic" autopilot accuracy and reliability. The result was that on the whole the larger new airliners were now able to absorb the costs of at least Category 2 autoland systems into their basic configuration.
Simultaneously pilot organizations globally were advocating the use of Head Up Display systems primarily from a safety viewpoint. Many operators in non-sophisticated environments without many ILS equipped runways were also looking for improvements. The net effect was pressure within the industry to find alternative ways to achieve low visibility operations, such as a "Hybrid" system which used a relatively low reliability autoland system monitored by the pilots via a HUD. Alaskan was a leader in this approach and undertook a lot of development work with Flight Dynamics and Boeing in this respect.
However a major problem with this approach was that European authorities were very reluctant to certificate such schemes as they undermined the well proven concepts of "pure" autoland systems. This impasse was broken when British Airways became involved as a potential customer for Bombardier's Regional Jet, which could not accommodate a full Cat 3 autoland system, but would be required to operate in those conditions. By working with Alaska Airlines and Boeing, British Airways technical pilots were able to demonstrate that a "Hybrid" concept was feasible, and although British Airways never eventually bought the Regional Jet, this was the breakthrough needed for international approval for such systems which meant that they could reach a global market.
The wheel turned full circle when in December 2006 London Heathrow was affected for a long period by dense fog. This airport was operating at maximum capacity in good conditions, and the imposition of low visibility procedures required to protect the localiser signal for autoland systems meant a major reduction in capacity from approximately 60 to 30 landings per hour. Since most airlines operating into Heathrow already had autoland-equipped aircraft, and thus expected to operate as normal, massive delays occurred. The worst affected airline was of course British Airways, as the largest operator at the airport.
BLEU and the origins of autoland
The Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU) of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) was formed at RAF Woodbridge and RAF Martlesham Heath during 1945 and 1946. It was a multi-disciplinary unit, drawing staff from the RAE, Farnborough and the Telecommunications Research Establishment, Malvern (TRE). The terms of reference were that the unit "will operate as a satellite of the RAE and will be responsible for the development on blind approach and landing of RAF, Naval and Civil aircraft". Before the formation of BLEU, an automatic landing was made at the Telecommunications Flying Unit (TFU) of the TRE at RAF Defford in a Boeing 247D aircraft, DZ203, early in 1945, using the American SCS 51 radio guidance system. That was in complete darkness, with no landing lights and all other lights obscured by the wartime blackout. There was no flare-out – the low approach speed and shallow glide angle meant that the aircraft could be allowed to fly straight onto the ground. SCS 51 was the basis for the Instrument Landing System (ILS), adopted by ICAO in 1948. There was an alternative system to the SCS 51 VHF USAF scheme from Col. Moseley and that was the radar-based system wholly devised, developed and trialled by F / O L. C. Barber B.Sc (Hons) and his colleagues at Defford. This system effectively gave range and height data bases which could be added to autopilot heading info and so enriched the control functions enabling automatic landing opportunities. The full technical description of this is now available in the archives at RAF Museum Hendon, reference X005-4863, and includes original photographic records of Boeing 247 DZ203.
Research during the first few years at BLEU led to the conclusion that a promising approach to blind landing would be a fully automatic system, and to the definition of the requirements for such a system, later designated Autoland. ILS was used as guidance during the approach phase, but at that time was not sufficiently accurate to complete the landing. That led to the development at BLEU of an improved FM radio altimeter for height guidance, capable of resolving height differences to 2 feet at low altitude, and a magnetic leader cable system for azimuth guidance. In collaboration with Smiths Industries Ltd., BLEU also developed coupling units to derive the commands to the autopilot from the guidance signals, and auto-throttle.
Components of the system were developed separately on several types of aircraft, including the Lancaster, Viking, Devon and the Albemarle. A demonstration of the techniques used was given to military and government representatives in May 1949. By 1950 the entire system had been installed on a DH Devon and the first demonstration of Autoland was given on that aircraft on 3 July 1950. Over the next 20 years, BLEU in conjunction with UK industry and the UK airworthiness authority, was responsible for almost all of the pioneering work needed to convert the concept of those experimental demonstrations into safe, accurate blind landings by large transport aircraft. The system in use during the early 2000s is basically the same as that used experimentally in 1950. The following diagram, from J S Shayler's 1958 memorandum, shows how the different components of the system, and guidance signals, were used during the consecutive phases of an automatic landing.
BLEU during the 1950s and 1960s
During the early 1950s, as a preliminary to the development of the full Autoland system, automatic approach trials were carried out on Valetta, Meteor and Canberra aircraft. The Canberra, VN799, was acquired in 1953 but was a write-off following a crash landing in August that year due to a double engine failure, fortunately without serious injury to the crew.
At that time, Autoland had lower priority because efforts were concentrated on other projects including rapid landing of aircraft for RAF Fighter Command, visual aids for pilots, runway approach lighting and an approach aid using DME with Barbro. That changed when Operational Requirement 947 (OR947) for automatic landing on the V-Force bomber fleet was issued in 1954. At that time the V-bomber force was the UK's main contribution to the strategic nuclear power of the west  and all-weather operation was essential. There was also renewed interest in automatic landing for civil aviation. As the next step in the development, the flare-out and coupling units from the Devon were linked to a Smiths Type D autopilot and installed in Varsity WF417, a much larger aircraft, capable of carrying 38 people rather than 10 in the Devon. The first fully automatic approach and landing was made by WF417 on 11 November 1954 under calm and misty conditions. A similar system was installed in Canberra WE189 to provide the first application of Autoland to jet-type aircraft. Automatic approaches  and automatic landings  were recorded by WE189 but the development was interrupted in April 1956 when the facilities at Woodbridge, which had the only suitable leader cable installation, ceased to be available to BLEU. Development of auto-flare and automatic kicking-off drift was continued at RAF Wittering, but in September that year WE189, returning from tests at Wittering, crashed due to engine failure on an approach when returning to its base at Martlesham Heath. The pilot, Flt. Lt. Les Coe, and the BLEU scientist in charge of the project, Mr. Joe Birkle, were killed.
Early in 1957 BLEU moved from Martlesham Heath to a newly equipped airfield at Thurleigh, the base for RAE Bedford. The development was continued in a third Canberra, WJ992, based on the results obtained with WE189. Experimental flights in WJ992 began late in 1957, leading to automatic landings with auto-throttle in March 1958. The following notes are from the logbook of the BLEU technologist carrying out the development: 10 March 1958 (the 38th flight of that programme): "Very little drift, about 0.3g – heights 150-55-15-0". That was with manual throttle, but auto throttle was used on 12 March, in a strong crosswind. March 17 saw "strong tailwind, 20 – 25 kt., pronounced float" and on June 20, after adjustments during a further 20 flights: "not bad – about 0.7 g nicely on main wheels – kicking off drift OK". Then on June 26: "Throttles off at 50ft. Very pleasing results" and on 20 August "hands and feet off". Recordings of automatic landings in that aircraft started on 8 July 1958, flight no. 69. Results for automatic landings in Canberra aircraft were quoted by Wood in 1957  and published by Charnley in 1959, as for a "medium size jet aircraft". By October 1958, BLEU had completed over 2,000 fully automatic landings, mainly in the Canberra and Varsity aircraft.
The V-bomber project to install and develop Autoland on Vulcan XA899, originally classified as Secret, ran in parallel with the Canberra and Varsity work. The first automatic landings in the Vulcan were made between December 1959  and April 1960. Trials were carried out later that year and the system was accepted for military service in 1961.
It was recognised that leader cable would be impractical at some airports, but that it could be dispensed with if improvements could be made to ILS. Some improvement resulted from a narrow beam localizer aerial system developed by BLEU during the early 1950s  and by 1958 automatic landings had been made using only ILS localiser for azimuth guidance. That required a good site but by the early 1960s radically new aerial designs for the ILS transmitters developed by Standard Telephones & Cables (ST&C) improved ILS to an extent that leader cable could be dispensed with.
For many years there had been discussions between the UK Ministry of Aviation and the US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) on guidance aids for landing in poor visibility. The Americans favoured a "pilot in the loop" technique, with improved aids for the pilot, over the fully automatic system preferred in the UK. In 1961, to gain experience with "the BLEU automatic landing system" the FAA sent a Douglas DC-7 to RAE Bedford for the system to be installed and tested. After that and further tests on return to Atlantic City, the FAA were convinced and thereafter strongly supported a fully automatic solution to the all-weather problem which later was adopted internationally.
Up to that stage the Autoland system had been realised only as a "single-lane" or single channel system, without any redundancy to protect against equipment failure. During the late 1950s and early 1960s increased cooperation between BLEU, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and companies in the aviation industry with BEA and BOAC led to the definition of safety requirements in terms of a specification for maximum tolerable failure rates. In 1961, the UK Air Registration Board (ARB) of the CAA issued a working document BCAR 367 "Airworthiness Requirements for Autoflare and Automatic Landing" which formed the basis for the definitions for weather visibility categories adopted by ICAO in 1965. In 1959, contracts were placed by BEA and BOAC to develop automatic landing, based on Autoland, for the Trident and the VC10. The Trident used a triplex system with no common elements, so that a failure in one of the three channels could be detected and that channel eliminated. "Nuisance disconnects" were an early problem with that system, eventually solved by the industry, using torque switches with a controlled degree of lost motion. The introduction of Autoland for Category 3 operation in BEA's Trident fleet required a huge effort by BEA, Hawker Siddeley Aviation, Smiths Industries and BLEU. A triplex system was also developed by Smiths and BLEU for the RAF's Belfast freighter.
The VC10 used an Elliott duplicated monitored system. Later, the Concorde system was basically an improved version of the VC10 one, benefiting from advances in electronic circuit technology during the late 1960s. By 1980, the Trident had carried out more than 50,000 in-service automatic landings. The VC10 accrued 3,500 automatic landings before use of the system was curtailed in 1974 for economic reasons. By 1980, Concorde had performed nearly 1,500 automatic landings in passenger service.
BLEU (renamed the Operational Systems Division of RAE in 1974) continued to play a leading role in the development of aircraft guidance systems, using a variety of aircraft including DH Comet, BAC 1-11, HS 748 (to replace the Varsities, which had been the main "work horses" for BLEU experiments for more than a decade) and VC-10 until the closure of RAE Bedford in 1994.
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A typical autoland system consists of an ILS (integrated glideslope receiver, localizer receiver, and perhaps GPS receiver as well) radio to receive the localizer and glideslope signals. The output of this radio will be a "deviation" from center which is provided to the flight control computer; this computer which controls the aircraft control surfaces to maintain the aircraft centered on the localizer and glideslope. The flight control computer also controls the aircraft throttles to maintain the appropriate approach speed. At the appropriate height above the ground (as indicated by the radio altimeter) the flight control computer will retard the throttles and initiate a pitch-up maneuver. The purpose of this "flare" is to reduce the energy of the aircraft such that it "stops flying" and settles onto the runway.
For CAT IIIc, the flight control computer will continue to accept deviations from the localizer and use the rudder to maintain the aircraft on the localizer (which is aligned with the runway centerline.) On landing the spoilers will deploy (these are surfaces on the top of the wing towards the trailing edge) which causes airflow over the wing to become turbulent, destroying lift. At the same time the autobrake system will apply the brakes and the thrust reversers will activate to maintain a deceleration profile. The anti-skid system will modulate brake pressure to keep all wheels turning. As the speed decreases, the rudder will lose effectiveness and the pilot will need to control the direction of the airplane using nose wheel steering, a system which typically is not connected to the flight control computer.
From an avionics safety perspective, a CAT IIIc landing is the "worst case scenario" for safety analysis because a failure of the automatic systems from flare through the roll-out could easily result in a "hard over" (where a control surface deflects fully in one direction.) This would happen so fast that the flight crew may not effectively respond. For this reason Autoland systems are designed to incorporate a high degree of redundancy so that a single failure of any part of the system can be tolerated (fail active) and a second failure can be detected – at which point the autoland system will turn itself off (uncouple, fail passive). One way of accomplishing this is to have "three of everything." Three ILS receivers, three radio altimeters, three flight control computers, and three ways of controlling the flight surfaces. The three flight control computers all work in parallel and are in constant cross communications, comparing their inputs (ILS receivers and radio altimeters) with those of the other two flight control computers. If there is a difference in inputs, then a computer can "vote out" the deviant input and will notify the other computers that "RA1 is faulty." If the outputs don't match, a computer can declare itself as faulty and, if possible, take itself off line.
When the pilot "arms" the system (prior to capture of either the localizer or glideslope) the flight control computers perform an extensive series of Built In Tests (BIT). For a CAT III landing, all the sensors and all the flight computers must be "in good health" before the pilot receives an AUTOLAND ARM (These are generic indications and will vary depending on equipment supplier and aircraft manufacturer) indication. If part of the system is in error, then an indication such as "APPROACH ONLY" would be presented to inform the flight crew that a CAT III landing is not possible. If the system is properly in the ARM mode, when the ILS receiver detects the localizer, then the autoland system mode will change to 'LOCALIZER CAPTURE' and the flight control computer will turn the aircraft into the localizer and fly along the localizer. A typical approach will have the aircraft come in "below the glideslope" (vertical guidance) so the airplane will fly along the localizer (aligned to the runway centerline) until the glideslope is detected at which point the autoland mode will change to CAT III and the aircraft will be flown by the flight control computer along the localizer and glideslope beams. The antennas for these systems are not at the runway touch down point however, with the localizer being some distance beyond the runway. However at a predefined distance above the ground the aircraft will initiate the flare maneuver, maintain the same heading, and settle onto the runway within the designated touch down zone.
If the autoland system loses redundancy prior to the decision height, then an AUTOLAND FAULT will be displayed to the flight crew at which point the crew can elect to continue as a CAT II approach or if this is not possible because of weather conditions, then the crew would need to initiate a go-around and proceed to an alternative airport.
If a single failure occurs below decision height AUTOLAND FAULT will be displayed, however at that point the aircraft is committed to landing and the autoland system will remain engaged, controlling the aircraft on only two systems until the pilot completes the rollout and brings the aircraft to a full stop on the runway or turns off the runway onto a taxiway. This is termed "fail active." However in this state the autoland system is "one fault away" from disengaging so the AUTOLAND FAULT indication should inform the flight crew to monitor the system behavior very careful and be ready to take control immediately. The system is still fail active and is still performing all necessary cross checks so that if one of the flight control computers decides that the right thing to do is order a full deflection of a control surface, the other computer will detect that there is a difference in the commands and this will take both computers off line (fail passive) at which time the flight crew must immediately take control of the aircraft as the automatic systems have done the safe thing by taking themselves off line.
During system design, the predicted reliability numbers for the individual equipment which makes up the entire autoland system (sensors, computers, controls, and so forth) are combined and an overall probability of failure is calculated. As the "threat" exists primarily during the flare through roll-out, this "exposure time" is used and the overall failure probability must be less than one in a million.
On February 25, 2009, a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 (Turkish Airlines Flight 1951) crashed about a mile (1500m) short of the runway at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The Dutch Safety Board published preliminary findings only one week after the crash, suggesting the autoland played a key role in downing the plane. According to the Flight Data Recorder, the airplane was on a full autoland approach at a height of 1950 ft / 595 m, the left Radio Altimeter had been misreporting a height of −8 ft. The autoland system responded accordingly and configured the plane for touchdown, idling the engines. This made the plane lose speed and stall. When the flight crew received stall-warnings, they were already too low and too slow to recover. As a secondary factor, the Safety Board suggested the crew did not have a visual ground reference because of foggy conditions.
The final investigation report was released on 6 May 2010.
- Slat Retraction During Reverse Thrust? 747-400 Tech Ops Forum | Airliners.net
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- RAF Martlesham Heath, Operations Record Books, 1956–1957 [UK National Archives AIR 29/2860]
- Copy of Logbook for D. R. Easson, Scientist BLEU 1955 – 1958. Martlesham Aviation Museum document A2669/D1350
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- W. Makinson (1953) All-Weather Landings, Flight, 18th December, pp. 805–806 http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1953/1953%20-%201651.html
- J. S. Shayler (1958) Ibid. p.8
- Michael D. Dobson ed., (2001) Ibid. p. 137
- Michael D. Dobson ed., (2001) Ibid. p. 148
- Sir John Charnley (1989) Ibid. p. 172
- K. J. Wilkinson (1970) Automatic Landing in BEA's Trident Operations – a Review of Effort and achievement, The Aeronautical Journal, March 1970, Vol. 74, Number 711, pp. 187–196
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- (this number comes from FAA Advisory Circular AC 25.1309-1A for systems which have a Catastrophic Failure)
- Pieter van Vollenhoven et al. (6 May 2010). "Crashed during approach, Boeing 737-800, near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, 25 February 2009" (PDF). The Dutch Safety Board.
- BOAC VC10 Automatic Landing (1968) at British Pathe (requires Adobe Flash)
- BLEU Canberra Automatic Landing (1958) at British Pathe (requires Adobe Flash)
- Trident Autolanding a 1969 Flight article on the Hawker Siddeley Trident's autoland system
- Automatic Landing a 1969 Flight article on the differing philosophies regarding autoland requirements
- "All-Weather Landings" a 1953 Flight article about the BLEU
- "Smiths Autoland System" 1 1965 Flight advertisement for the system