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USAF F-35As to receive Auto-GCAS Seven Years Ahead of Schedule

Integration of Auto-GCAS onto the F-35 was originally scheduled for 2026.

U.S. Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin F-35A stealth fighters have started to receive the Auto-GCAS (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System) seven years ahead of schedule.

Integration Auto-GCAS onto A-model aircraft has begun, the F-35 Joint Program Office has confirmed.

“This is a great day for the warfighter as the Auto-GCAS is a proven system that is long overdue,” says Lieutenant General Eric Fick, F-35 programme executive officer.

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Estimates suggest that the technology will prevent more than 26 ground collisions over the stealthy fighter’s service life.

Auto-GCAS is designed to prevent controlled flight into terrain mishaps by executing an automatic recovery maneuver when impact with the ground is imminent. It accomplishes this feat through a predicted trajectory, based on GPS positioning and system altitude, which is compared with an onboard Digital Terrain Database. Once the program recognizes the aircraft is likely to crash, it prompts the pilot to evade either a ground crash or a controlled flight into terrain situation. If no action is taken, Auto-GCAS assumes temporary control, engaging an autopilot maneuver to roll the aircraft upright and initiate a 5-G pull, diverting the plane and pilot out of harm’s way. After putting the plane on a safe trajectory, the system returns aircraft control to the pilot.

The anti-collision software was developed at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), Ohio and after years of testing and improvements made to digital mapping technology, the system became operational when it was installed on F-16s in 2014. Since then, eight pilots and six F-16 aircraft have credited AutoGCAS with lives and equipment.

According to Flight Global, integration of Auto-GCAS onto the F-35 was originally scheduled for 2026. However, under an accelerated process, including evaluation by the USAF’s 412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB, that timeline has been advanced.

USAF F-35As will be first to receive Auto-GCAS, with the system then rolled out across the F-35B and F-35C variants operated by the US Marine Corps and US Navy, respectively.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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