No pilot? There’s an app for that.

  • Illustration by Rui Ricardo
  • Illustration by Rui Ricardo
  • Illustration by Rui Ricardo
Date:1 January 2011 Tags:

It’s every small-aircraft passenger’s worst nightmare: you’re cruising over the clouds when the pilot suddenly clutches his chest and slumps forward, unconscious. Now what? Software entrepreneur and pilot Austin Meyer, creator of the X-Plane flight simulator, thinks he has the answer. He’s written an iPad app, EFIS-App, that automatically finds a nearby airport and instructs the flight control computer to glide in for a safe landing.

For now, the program works only with an iPad wirelessly linked to X-Plane. But next year, when Meyer finishes building his 600+ km/h Lancair Evolution kit plane, he will connect the app to the plane’s flight control system and allow it to perform a landing. Assuming the program works, Meyer will make it available to owners of Evolutions and then, pending FAA approval, adapt it for use in other aircraft.

Trouble at 7 600 metres
1
The passenger pulls back the thrott le and touches a red butt on on the aircraft’s instrument panel. The app then takes over, acting in concert with the flight control system to autopilot the aircraft.

2 Using the aircraft’s onboard satellite navigation data, the software finds airports within gliding range, assessing distance, obstacles, runway lengths and other variables. It issues commands to the plane’s ailerons, rudder and elevator to steer toward the best option.

3 The plane descends through a sequence of waypoints, then sets up for a standard instrument approach. The passenger manually deploys the landing gear before touchdown. Emergency services, contacted by radio, are waiting.