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AFRL team wins Laureate Award for life-saving aircraft technology

Kevin Price, Air Force Research Laboratory program manager (maroon shirt) stands to the left of Edward Griffin of Lockheed Martin, along with other winners of the 2019 Aviation Week Laureate Awards at a formal ceremony at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. March 14, 2019. AFRL, Lockheed Martin and Office of the Secretary of Defense won the safety award in the defense category for Auto-ICAS, a life-saving aircraft technology. (Photo by Chris Zimmer, Aviation Week)

Kevin Price, Air Force Research Laboratory program manager (maroon shirt) stands to the left of Edward Griffin of Lockheed Martin, along with other winners of the 2019 Aviation Week Laureate Awards at a formal ceremony at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. March 14, 2019. AFRL, Lockheed Martin and Office of the Secretary of Defense won the safety award in the defense category for Auto-ICAS, a life-saving aircraft technology. (Photo by Chris Zimmer, Aviation Week)

WASHINGTON – The Air Force Research Laboratory's Automatic Integrated Collison Avoidance System team, along with Lockheed Martin and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, were awarded the 2019 Aviation Week Laureate Award for safety in the defense category during a formal ceremony here Mar 14. 

Kevin Price, AFRL program manager and retired Air Force F-16 pilot, accepted the honor on behalf of the team. Price said that while it was an honor to receive the award, the team’s ultimate goal is to protect all military pilots and fighter aircraft.

“The true reward comes when we accomplish this mission,” said Price.

Auto-ICAS is the first integrated aircraft protection system for preventing mid-air and ground collisions. The Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System relies on GPS and a digital terrain database. Auto-GCAS employs complex algorithms and scans the digital terrain around an aircraft’s current and projected area to initiate an automatic recovery at the last instant to avoid a ground collision when needed.

Auto-GCAS saves pilots’ lives by preventing the most common reason for crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain. According to Air Force statistics, CFIT is responsible for 75 percent of all F-16 crashes. The leading causes of CFIT are spatial disorientation, target fixation, and G-force induced Loss of Consciousness.

Since being fielded on F-16 Block 40/50 aircraft in 2014, Auto-GCAS has saved seven aircraft and the lives of eight Air Force pilots. Today, more than 600 F-16 Block 40/50 aircraft have the capability. Development efforts are in the works to field the system on an additional 330 Pre-Block 40 aircraft in 2021. Meanwhile, a test program is underway to integrate Auto-GCAS on the F-35 with potential fielding in 2019.

The Pentagon estimates that this technology will save 40 pilots as well as 57 F-16s and F-35s through 2040. In 2016, the Auto-GCAS team won a Laureate for safety.

Auto-ICAS also implements an Automatic Air Collision Avoidance capability. While Auto-GCAS monitors ground threats, Auto-ACAS prevents mid-air collisions by tracking aircraft of interest and initiating a last-instant collision avoidance maneuver if needed to prevent a mid-air collision. Both systems interface with the aircraft’s flight controls to avoid collisions.

The Air Force reports that Auto-ICAS performed exceptionally well during extensive flight-testing including 158 flights comprised of 407 hours and 1700 test points in 2016 and 2017 at Edwards Air Force Base. Pilots with operational fighter aircraft experience categorized the system’s performance as very effective and nuisance free.

With successful test flights recorded on the F-16, AFRL wants to launch Auto-ICAS on other Air Force and Department of Defense fourth-generation fighter aircraft. Additionally, AFRL has launched a program to develop Auto-ICAS technology for fifth-generation fighters, with plans to flight test and ultimately field the capability on the F-35. 

Price says that he anticipates F-35 flight tests with Auto-ICAS will occur in the next three to four years and hopes that once the requirement is formalized by the Air Force F-16 Program Office, other services will follow.

Aviation Week, a nationally recognized magazine, has awarded Laureates for more than six decades to teams and individuals for outstanding contributions in aerospace. The magazine’s senior editorial staff identifies the nominees and then votes to determine the winners in the defense, commercial aviation, business aviation and space categories. 

Since 1957, AFRL and its predecessors have received more than 25 nominations and Laureate awards in aeronautics and propulsion. This is the second time AFRL has won a Laureate for safety.

The Aviation Week Laureate Awards are held annually at the National Building Museum to bring together leaders in commercial aviation with innovators from the defense industry and space community.