Machine Design

Carrier landings on autopilot

The days when steel-nerved pilots showed their mettle by touching down on aircraft carriers may be coming to an end. GPS technology now lets jets land themselves.

The new landing system was recently tested for the first time, at sea, in the Harrier jump-jet, a short-takeoff vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft. The technology, being studied by the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program, reduces pilot workload at the end of a mission when pilot fatigue could affect critical landings. Besides reducing risk, the automated landings will let pilots fly day or night missions in weather that would previously have made such landings impossible. The ship trial aboard HMS Invincible was the world's first fully automatic STOVL shipboard recovery and landing, according to QinetiQ, the British technology company that developed the system.

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