August 14, 2003 (by Stefaan Vanhastel) - The first tests of the Automatic Air Collision Avoidance System involving actual aircraft were completed successfully at Edwards AFB. The tests involved the VISTA F-16 and a standard production F-16.
The Auto ACAS is the world's first automated collision-avoidance system.
Maj. James Less and Swedish air force Maj. Richard Ljungberg flew the VISTA
F-16 during the maneuver, while Maj. Scott Wierzbanowski from the 46th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fl., flew the standard F-16. During this milestone flight, the two aircraft repeatedly approached each other, and the Auto ACAS activated every time to separate them without pilot input.
Midair collisions are a major cause of U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft losses, and an unfortunate consequence of the aggressive, highly dynamic environment of air-to-air combat and realistic training.
Current collision-avoidance systems provide audio and visual guidance to pilots, who then must take manual action. Such warnings work well for slow-maneuvering transport aircraft that must keep far apart, but are ineffective for the fighter pilot whose mission requires close-formation flying and aggressive maneuvering in the vicinity of other aircraft.
By comparison, each Auto ACAS-equipped aircraft broadcasts its position and trajectory using a data link and receives identical information transmitted from other aircraft. The computers aboard each aircraft compare the data and identify conflicting flight paths. When a conflict is found, the two aircraft coordinate their escape maneuvers, and time them to begin at the last possible instant to avoid the collision. Auto ACAS returns control to the pilot as soon as the aircraft begin to separate, typically in a second or two. Auto ACAS is integrated in the aircraft's flight control software.