New High-Tech Air Force System Helps to Save Pilots’ Lives

New High-Tech Air Force System Helps to Save Pilots’ Lives

"Losing an aircraft is big -- but even bigger is losing a pilot." 


The Air Force is looking to expand collision-avoidance technology that is already saving fighter pilots' lives by re-directing F-16s on a crash course with the ground in order to avert a crash impact.

Auto-Ground Collision Avoidance System, now installed on digital F-16 fighters, uses computer algorithms to take over an aircraft's flight trajectory and change a potential collision course with the ground or nearby terrain. 


While this effort has been underway for quite sometime, a recent Air National Guard mid-air collision of two F-16s in South Carolina underscores the service's interest in rapidly expanding promising collision avoidance technology to incorporate air-to-air crashes as well as air-to-ground incidents. Fortunately, in this instance both pilots ejected safely without injury, multiple reports and service statements said.  

The goal is to not only expand the algorithms to avert mid-air collisions but also integrate the technology into a wider range of service aircraft beyond the F-16, service officials said. 

Air-ground collision avoidance technology is already saving pilots lives and saving airplanes, senior Air Force officials told Scout Warrior. 

"The vast majority of aircraft that we have lost have been due to a ground collision with the pilot flying the airplane into the ground due to task saturation or flying low level and losing situational awareness" Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy for Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview. 

Collisions with terrain can also happen if the fighter jet is pulling so many G’s that the pilot loses consciousness, Bunch explained. 

"With this technology there is now a chance that the pilot can regain consciousness and become situationally aware and prevent flying that airplane into the ground," he added.

(This piece first appeared in Scout Warrior here.) 

The technology calculates where the aircraft is and where it would hit the ground based upon the way it is flying at the time, Bunch said. If the fighter jet is flying toward a potential collision with the ground, the on-board computer system will override the flight path and pull the aircraft away from the ground. 

"We've already had examples of aircraft that would have been lost and the individuals and aircraft that we would have lost had we not invested in this. Now we are trying to share this technology to get it into other platforms," he added. 

The aircraft is now integrated onto digital F-16s and the Air Force is exploring ways to put the system onto other fighter jets and aircraft. 

"Losing an aircraft is big -- but even bigger is losing a pilot and having to deal with the loss of what I believe is our most valuable treasure, the men and women who operate those things in combat," Bunch explained.

Hoping to build upon the progress of the successful auto-ground collision avoidance Technology, Air Force engineers are in the early stages of working on an Auto-Air Collision avoidance system which would, for example, prevent two maneuvering super-fast fighter jets from colliding with one-another in mid-air. 

"This is a much more complicated engineering and technology feat because now I have three dimensions that are playing at the same time in two separate vehicles. That is in the early stages of development but we have demonstrated some stuff already so that is something we will keep our eye on in the future," Bunch said. 

Kris Osborn became the Managing Editor of Scout Warrior in August of 2015. His role with includes managing content on the Scout Warrior site and generating independently sourced original material. Scout Warrior is aimed at providing engaging, substantial military-specific content covering a range of key areas such as weapons, emerging or next-generation technologies and issues of relevance to the military. Just prior to coming to Scout Warrior, Osborn served as an Associate Editor at the This story originally appeared in Scout Warrior. 

Image: U.S. Air Force