This independence increases operational capabilities by enabling mobility assets to conduct approaches and landings in low-visibility conditions at austere fields without the detailed infrastructure necessary with present operations.
"Currently, air transport crews are being denied clearance for missions if the weather is bad enough and there is no instrument landing capability at the destination," McDowell said. "So, getting the Autonomous Approach and Landing Capability's capabilities demonstrated is a high priority."
According to Gary Machovina, principle writer of the Autonomous Approach and Landing Capability concept of operations with Air Mobility Command's long-range planning section at Scott AFB, Ill., Air Mobility Command identified a deficiency in mobility operations in Bosnia during 1995 and 1996.
"The missions then and now are limited to those areas that can support landings using ground-based navigation aids. These constraints led to delays in deploying and supplying troops in the theater of operations, " Machovina said. "The Autonomous Approach and Landing Capability looks very promising and has the potential of opening up the possibilities for operations significantly."
"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," Zimmer continued.
Presently, the Autonomous Approach and Landing Capability works by using a 2-D millimeter wave imaging radar system, infrared camera, and fusion and processing algorithms that combine the best qualities of each sensor.
The fused sensor image of the runway is then displayed to the pilot in a two dimensional view. Therefore, if an obstacle, such as a tree, were in the path of an aircraft, it would only appear as a shadow or a spot on the display, not allowing the pilot to determine the height, and, consequently, the threat of the object, which poses a significant safety hazard.
To address this limitation, the Sensors Directorate is working on modifying the system to feature a 3-D view. The 3-D radar will display the height of obstacles or terrain in the path of the aircraft, which will make the pilot better aware of the landing situation.
"The three-dimensional radar is primarily designed to address two issues: providing a safe approach by identifying intervening terrain or obstacles on the final approach and providing information about potential hazards or runway incursions," said U.S. Air Force Maj. John Koger, program manager with Sensor's Directorate, Sensor Applications and Demonstrates branch.
McDowell said the Autonomous Approach and Landing Capability is scheduled for flight test demonstration, beginning with the 2-D radar, between October 2006 and February 2007 aboard a Lockheed Martin C-130H at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Plans are for the technology to be transitioned to Air Mobility Command by fiscal year 2010. Engineers are scheduled to flight test the completed 3-D modifications in late spring to early summer of 2007.
McDowell said the primary focus will be on the radar's ability to identify obstacles or terrain at the correct location and height on final approach. "From what I have seen thus far, the proposed technologies are impressive.
The true test will come during our demonstration when the sensors are stressed in actual weather conditions," Zimmer said.