Zero-Zero Landings In The Works (For Military Flyers)

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The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio, is working to develop technology that will enable the Air Mobility Command to land in a range of environmental conditions, anytime and anywhere, the Air Force said last week. An onboard system will process data picked up by imaging radar to generate a near real-time three-dimensional video image on a heads-up display. The image will be enhanced to appear as if the pilot were landing in daytime conditions on a typical visual approach, the Air Force said. The system would allow for landing in low visibility at remote runways that lack navigation aids. For off-airport landings, a pre-mission landing analysis system will analyze satellite imagery to determine an area's suitability for landing operations by looking at length, width and flatness as well as potential obstructions and standing water. Additionally, the system will be able to determine soil type and moisture content in order to estimate the strength of the area. "This technology is a true game-changer," said Douglas Zimmer, deputy program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory Human Effectiveness Directorate. "With the Autonomous Approach and Landing Capability providing the pilot with adequate imagery and the dependence on airport infrastructure gone, mobility assets will be free to operate under a majority of atmospheric conditions related to extreme low-visibility," he said. Flight tests are scheduled to begin late next year, with deployment by 2010. The Air Force Research Laboratory Air Vehicles, Human Effectiveness and Sensors Directorates are working collaboratively with BAE Systems, Boeing Phantom Works and the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research Engineering Laboratory, in Hanover, N.H. One day, the technology (or something similar) will likely trickle down.