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It’s the scenario no pilot wants to imagine: A medical emergency that renders him or her incapacitated,
leaving passengers helpless, panicked and facing an unthinkable outcome. But Garmin has changed the calculus on such an event. With its revolutionary Autoland system, the aircraft will navigate to the closest, suitable airport, select the most appropriate runway in regard to winds and weather, and safely land and stop the aircraft on the runway. This happens with a simple push of a prominent red button on the flight deck.
Publicly announced in late Octo- ber, Autoland is scheduled to first be certified on the Piper M600SLS, Piper’s f lagship single-engine tur- boprop, by the end of the year. It is also scheduled to be certified on the Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet by yearend.
Autoland in Action
In August, Garmin invited me to test out the Autoland feature at its f light test headquarters at New Century Air Center (KIXD) onboard its M600 testbed. After a thorough brief and review of the sys- tem, we climbed aboard the M600 for a demo f light. With f light test pilot Erik Sargent in the left seat, I settled into the right seat, putting myself in the position of a passenger.
After departing Runway 18, we down firmly on the mains, the air-
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climbed northwest of the airport to an altitude of 4,000 feet. With the aircraft on autopilot, Sargent invited me to lift the clear plastic guard and activate the Autoland button. Imme- diately the familiar G3000 displays were replaced with clear commu- nications that “Autoland is Active.” At the same time, the airplane had activated the GPS LNAV approach for Runway 18 and made a 180-degree toward KEZNU, the final approach fix. The autothrottles slowed the air- craft as it descended, and as the air- craft turned onto the final approach course, the gear and approach f laps extended and the aircraft settled into a stabilized, 110-kt descent to the runway. Meanwhile, the displays and aural instructions provided continual updates and guidance on ensuring seatbelts are buckled and loose items are stowed. On the final approach segment, the MFD displayed the message, “Approaching Destination Airport. Prepare to Land.”
This is where things get interest- ing, especially for a pilot accustomed to disconnecting the autopilot at de- cision height or on short final. Sar- gent assured me that it wouldn’t be necessary today. As we crossed the threshold, the autothrottles retarded power and the plane gently began to pitch up for the flare. Touching
craft tracked perfectly down the runway as it brought the nose down and braked aggressively. Once at a complete stop, Autoland normally would initiate engine shutdown, but on this demo, it was prevented from performing that function.
Although it landed slightly left the painted centerline, just as other aviation journalists have reported, the airplane was dead center on the synthetic vision GPS waypoint. (The paint stripes are not perfectly aligned with the GPS runway center point).
Throughout the demo, the auto- mated announcements provided reassuring updates of the aircraft’s progress toward its destination and even provided helpful pre- and post- landing instructions.
“Well, what do you think?” Sar- gent asked.
I could only conjure up one word: “Amazing.”
Deep-Dive into Development Background
Garmin first began imagining an Autoland system in the early 2000s and began working on it in earnest in 2010 using a Columbia single-engine aircraft as its test platform. The goal at first was to simply get the aircraft on the ground to save the lives of those onboard. As development con- tinued, the goal changed to not only save lives but to preserve the integ- rity of the aircraft itself.
Development was divided between three main groups within the com- pany: the flight controls group, which was responsible for autothrottle, au- to-braking, auto-steering and other mechanical automation aspects; the display software team, which devel- oped the algorithms for the system’s decision-making, routing and the most difficult part: the landing; and finally, the certification arm of Gar- min worked in concert with Piper and Cirrus to make the entire system on the M600 and Vision Jet a certi- fied reality.
On the Columbia, Garmin fur- ther refined its 3-axis autopilot, then delved into developing an

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