Emergency ground avoidance system integrated into F-35


The F-35 Joint Program Office, which consists of the US Air Force and Lockheed Martin, has started integrating the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System on to the Air Force’s F-35As on the fleet.

The Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System(Auto-GCAS) enables the aircraft to sense when it is flying into the ground and automatically intervenes to stop a collision

“This is a great day for the warfighter as the Auto-GCAS is a proven system that is long overdue,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 program executive officer. “Over the service life of the F-35 fleet,  it is estimated Auto-GCAS will prevent more than 26 ground collisions from happening.”

Originally developed for the F-16 in partnership with NASA and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Auto-GCAS uses terrain mapping, geolocation and automation to detect and avoid potential ground collisions. When the program recognizes imminent impact, it will prompt the pilot to take action. If the pilot is unresponsive, Auto-GCAS assumes temporary control to divert the aircraft out of harm’s way, and then returns control of the aircraft to the pilot once on a safe trajectory.

Auto-GCAS uses terrain mapping, geolocation and automation to detect and avoid potential ground collisions.

The system has been operating successfully aboard the F-16 for more than five years and has already been credited with saving eight F-16 pilots’ lives since 2014.

Auto-GCAS was originally slated for delivery in the 2026 timeframe. To accelerate the technology, the AFRL and Lockheed Martin conducted positive feasibility studies and the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin implemented an agile approach to develop the technology for integration on the F-35.

The 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base then completed a rigorous flight testing program to validate its performance and safety, which led to the wing’s formal recommendation to field Auto-GCAS aboard the F-35.

“The F-35 is the most survivable fighter jet in the world today – and the addition of Auto-GCAS will further enhance safety and save lives,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. “The safe and effective acceleration of this technology is a testament to the joint government and industry team partnering in an agile environment to deliver life-saving capability to our men and women in uniform, significantly sooner than planned.”

The system will next be integrated aboard the F-35B and F-35C variants. The Auto-GCAS team was recently recognized with the National Aeronautic Associations’ 2018 Robert J. Collier Trophy, and received the prestigious award in June 2019.


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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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