Approximately twenty years ago, a public school teacher who was quite savvy at using aviation and aerospace in almost every subject she taught, was sharing an interesting experience with some pilot friends. A lifetime aviation enthusiast, she held what she called a "professional student pilot license," having passed her written and having logged several hours. However, she had never finished earning her private ticket. Most hours logged were in the Piper Tomahawk, a Cherokee 140, and a Cessna 152.
The conversation became more intriguing as she shared an exciting experience she had circa 2002 in some of her CAP AEX training (aviation training for teachers).
Apparently, she and another teacher were given the amazing opportunity to fly with a former U-2 pilot in a Cessna 182 while at a training event at Andrews AFB near Washington, DC. It was after dark and they were experiencing with awe the lights of the populated DC and Baltimore areas while cruising over the Potomac.
Both teachers were obviously game when the seasoned Air Force airman asked if they'd like to experience negative G forces. Both educators were more than willing, as they had both experienced this weightlessness many times before with other pilots in other aircraft.
It would apparently become an experience she would share over and over again: as the PIC forced the craft into this stall-enhancing attitude and they began their gravity-negative float, a metal box of sectional charts purportedly floated up and behind the PIC's head.
The other teacher in the back seat would later share her actions and thoughts, "I was floating weightlessly while trying to make sure our PIC wasn't somehow knocked out cold by a temporarily floating prism-blimp!" Both teachers would then reminisce with veiled fear and awe as they realized that not even the student pilot in the co-pilot seat could have likely landed that high powered aircraft.
That was almost twenty years ago when the E6B was still a mind-boggling slide rule that every pilot had to learn to master. What if they had had to land that aircraft? This was a high-powered aircraft with a constant-speed propeller. Over the Potomac. After dark. Would they have survived their PIC being rendered unconscious, or would all three have perished?
If the Pilot Can't Land the Aircraft, What Can?
What if there was a system that could take over general aviation aircraft in the event of such emergencies? Better yet, what if there was a software program that could actually land the aircraft, much like autopilot manages airliners during flat and level flight? Wonder no more, as the time has come.
On May 15 of this year, the FAA gave the much anticipated and now-coveted nod to Piper officials in the form of certification papers for just this purpose: the astounding and remarkable Garmin Autoland system.
The approval has been granted initially on the Piper M600/SLS, which makes this impressive low-wing general aviation airplane even more impressive, as now it can land the airplane on its own should the pilot become incapacitated.
Hard to believe? We thought you might feel that way, so watch Jason Schappert of MzeroA Flight Training share his experience with the Autoland feature in the Piper M600.