The recent announcement by Garmin regarding their revolutionary automatic land capability is excellent news for the industry. And Cirrus Aircraft joins Piper Aircraft as the first of the general aviation manufacturers to introduce the system in a production airplane. The company will implement its Safe Return Emergency Autoland System in the 2020 Vision Jet. The automatic landing technology will act as an additional safety system to the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).
Careful consideration was given to where to place the activation button for the Safe Return. Since single-pilot operation is common in the Vision Jet, Cirrus elected to place the button just aft of the CAPS and oxygen overhead console. The placement makes the function easily accessible by anyone in the aircraft. Safe Return is also automatically activated after 60 seconds in Auto-Level mode as well as Emergency Descend Mode upon reaching 15,000 feet.
Communication with ATC uses both COM radios, one for 121.5 MHz and the other for the nearest appropriate ATC facility, as well as setting an emergency transponder squawk. That solution takes into account the present 3D location, along with potential landing facilities and weather, including possible icing, terrain and remaining fuel. If icing is predicted, the Vision Jet’s TKS, engine inlet heat and pneumatic boots are activated. A unique feature of the Cirrus implementation is that if a safe solution is not obtainable due to remaining fuel, terrain (including water) and other conditions, Safe Return will advise the passengers. In this situation, a message will appear on the MFD advising the passengers to activate CAPS. This information is also included in the passenger briefing on the checklist.
If the conditions allow, and the pilot does not cancel Safe Return, the system will descend the aircraft and proceed with the appropriate approach through the use of a control stick switch. Configuration of the aircraft with gear and flaps is automatic. Since the flight will transition between different ATC sectors, the system will change to the appropriate frequency, whether that is approach control, control tower or even CTAF. Emergency services will also be called while simultaneously transmitting the same information on 121.5 Mhz.
On the approach, Safe Return also utilizes a new radar altimeter for a more precise glide path and landing. Once on the ground, using GPS-based speed sensors on the brakes, Safe Return will progressively apply pressure to the brake master cylinder until a complete stop and set a parking brake. With the engine tail-mounted, it is not a safety issue so it will continue running in case a pilot needs to taxi the plane off the runway.
When thinking about the two emergency safety systems, Safe Return is primarily meant for pilot incapacitation, while CAPS is in case of an aircraft emergency that cannot be controlled or resolved. Cirrus will include Safe Return as standard equipment in their 2020 Vision Jet models starting in January. The new feature is expected to add $100,000 to the base price.