View Full Version : Control tower lands plane without pilot intervention!

Jules Meister
14th Apr 2004, 20:46
Virtual pilot lands Qantas jet

THE Qantas jumbo was at cruise altitude heading to Melbourne when aviation's
latest gee-whiz tool took charge in the cockpit last week.

For 45 minutes last Wednesday the flight from Singapore responded to
commands despatched from the tower at Tullamarine.

Flight QF10, carrying 400 passengers, went from 39,000ft to a standing stop
on the tarmac without the pilots or tower talking.

A revolutionary landing process driven entirely by digitised commands was
transmitted to the aircraft via the tower computer.

Qantas head of flight operations, Chris Manning said yesterday that the new
"tailored arrival system" would be tested over the next six months and
hopefully adopted afterwards by safety regulator Airservices Australia.

Except for a couple of relatively minor issues, the first trial went
exceptionally well, he said yesterday.

Qantas is using Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A330 jets for the trials on
selected in-bound international and domestic flights to Melbourne and Sydney
airports. Capt Manning said the trial would involve about 100 flights until

Conducted in association with Boeing, Air Services Australia and Europe's
Air Traffic Alliance, the aim is to find solutions to the go-around landing
problem for pilots and passengers at busy airports.

Capt Manning said that, unlike present landing strategies, the new system
gave controllers more time to plot procedures and give incoming aircraft
direct glide paths.

"It will reduce noise, cut fuel burn and noise and generate substantial
savings," he said.

It's estimated that a jumbo using the system operating between Melbourne and
Sydney could save 300kg of jet fuel and about 200kg on an A330jet.

Details about the trial and last Wednesday's landing emerged yesterday when
the national flag carrier demonstrated the technology at its new flight
simulators at Essendon.

An Airbus A330 simulator, operated by Capt Duncan Pudney, was used to
demonstrate a tailored landing from 41,000ft.

Tower commands received via a data uplink were loaded by Capt Pudney into
the simulator's flight management system.

From that point on, Capt Pudney simply followed a voice command from the
onboard computer. "It is just a matter of monitoring the auto flight system
through to the auto-land arrangement," he said.

The only instruction was an order to adjust the thrust levers to idle. After
touchdown, Capt Pudney manually activated reverse thrust to assist braking.

"Using reverse thrust and the automated breaking system the plane
decelerates taxi speed," Capt Pudney said.

With the aircraft near to standstill, he deactivated the auto braking system
and the automatic pilot. He was then able to manually move the plane off the
centreline of the runway.

Capt Manning said the new system allowed pilots a "limitless range of flight
path options".

"This ensures the most efficient arrival path possible," he said.

He said Qantas crew and air traffic controllers would constantly evaluate
each flight during the landing and arrival phases. Qantas is also testing an
initiative where computers coupled to glass displays are being tested on
737-800 aircraft to further improve precision landings.

The new system does away with the conventional way pilots scan flight
instruments. Pilots need only glance at a see-through glass panel for a
readout of instruments in front of the windscreen.

14th Apr 2004, 21:29
Just a couple of comments on the Herald Sun story:
Civil aircraft usually respond to instructions (not commands) from ATC.
I presume the ATC instructions were passed by data link rather than by voice.
<<The new system does away with the conventional way pilots scan flight instruments.>> It's a HUD? Either way the pilot(s) will monitor the flightpath by observing instruments of one sort or another and the aircraft commander (the one who issues commands) will continue to be ultimately responsible for the safety of the aircraft.
Data link, if it delivers hoped for benefits, will reduce communication time and misunderstanding but nevertheless this is evolution rather than revolution.

14th Apr 2004, 22:21
If I'm reading this post correctly, you are talking about sending data to the pilot, not controlling the a/c as you would an RPV?

I suppose e-mailing instructions to the pilot by some kind of wireless data network would be an efficient way of doing things.

I long for the future, when traffic information, weather information, and other data are available on some kind of "airborn internet"


14th Apr 2004, 22:38
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your air traffic controller speaking. My name is John Smith and I will be flying you to London today..................:eek: :eek: :eek:

14th Apr 2004, 23:08
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your air traffic controller speaking. My name is John Smith and I will be flying you to London today

...from the confort of my own home.

pilots = :eek: pax = :uhoh: controller = :E

14th Apr 2004, 23:36
An initial read of the thread subject and indeed the first paragraph of the article would lead you to believe ATC landed the aircraft. The article is not very clear at all in fact, but what happened seems to be that the usual ATC instructions were delivered via data link and the aircraft was still flown by the pilots, via the AP, as per usual. Its a new means of comms, not of actually controlling the aircraft.

15th Apr 2004, 02:07
"Using reverse thrust and the automated breaking system the plane
decelerates taxi speed," Capt Pudney said.

Is that a spelling error or a Freudian slip?

15th Apr 2004, 08:28
Hey guys...this was published on the 1st April!

15th Apr 2004, 09:35
Yes indeed, we have been using it (Data Link) for some time at Maastricht, albeit with a limited number of (suitably equipped) operators and on trial basis. Not too sure if it will be ideal in peak traffic conditions when rapid multiple instructions may be required, but otherwise it works fine.

15th Apr 2004, 13:09
Automation is a wonderful thing, but when it fails and airlines/ATC/whoever rely on it too heavily to squeeze schedules to the absolute minimum, it leaves a major headache to get it all running smoothly again using 'old fashioned' methods. Just have a look how many delays there were today when easyjet's system crashed and left all their crews sat without wx and flight plans.

Let's hope it is a good and reliable system, and nobody forgets how to manage things smoothly using the current systems.

Ranger One
15th Apr 2004, 13:23
Flight QF10, carrying 400 passengers, went from 39,000ft to a standing stop on the tarmac without the pilots or tower talking.

Right... hands up everyone who thinks this will be a great aid to situational awareness for every other poor bastard in the vicinity... :\


Curious Pax
15th Apr 2004, 13:31
Avman, do you have to laboriously type in full instructions, or is it automated to a degree (eg click on flight number, then 'descend flight level' icon, then type in '110 for a descent to flight level 110)? If the latter then I would imagine that would with practice prove quicker than speaking, as you could get the instruction out virtually as quickly as saying it, and wouldn't have to stop whilst the pilot repeated what you have said. Typing it in full on the other hand (especially if you use as few fingers as I do) would slow things considerably I would think.

The real fun would happen in the circumstances that witchdoctor describes - the same discussion as that of hand flying vs automatics that pilots have would be valid.

15th Apr 2004, 16:15
Hello,TWR ,I'm a passanger on QF10.Sir,we are in severe turbulance here,can you make a PA announcement? Some of the passangers have just hit the ceiling?!! Ohh,it's smooth down there? Sorry dude,my mistake ! :E
What about CB's ? Not on your screen? It's ok then. :}
God bless the bullet trains !

15th Apr 2004, 21:42
As for reliability, it depends on a lot of things.

I wonder what sort of protocol it uses? something like UDP is a good transmission protocol.

I'd be concerned that anyone with a good laptop conputer in transmission range could abuse this system. Think about it. If Barclays Bank's main wireless network can be cracked by a news reorter with a laptop and an old baked-bean can, what of this?


16th Apr 2004, 00:38
To anyone who's the least bit concerned about all this kefuffle (younger daughter's fav new word) I'd say:
1. Our business is a team effort: Loading, engineering, despatch, ATC, cabin crew, security, flight crew etc etc. (sorry if I've missed anyone out)
2. The air traffic controller and the captain and the first officer and the flight engineer (if fitted) will be monitoring what's going on.
. . so no different from the way it was done before except for a spot of very welcome evolution.
With thanks to the evoluters.
. . an when I was 25 I thought that by now there'd be no HF radio or NDBs - evolution's a bit slow actually.

16th Apr 2004, 00:47
Sounds like CPDLC to me, already in use by many aircraft over the North Atlantic, and a key part of FANS.

17th Apr 2004, 18:51
what would the affect of a terror attack be on multiple ground contol stations if there were no pilots in the plane? Or a hacked set of instructions being sent to a pilotless plane via RF or jamming signals?

3rd May 2004, 13:34
ladies and gentlemen welcome aboard flight no 111. this is a fully automated service and nothing can go wrong..go wrong ..go wrong..gowrong......

3rd May 2004, 13:47
Thank God that, when I buy my Jabiru in a few months time, it's going to me and only me who flies it.

Hands off, take it all way from the pilot - it's all wonderful until there is a major power failure on the ground or in the air.

We are rapidly gettingto a point where pilots are systems operators and not bums-on-the seat, hands-on-the-yoke, actually PILOT IN COMMAND of the aeroplane.

Is this really the way we want to go and should the passengers be looking for alternative methods of transportation?

6th May 2004, 07:42
Pilots have ALWAYS been systems managers.

Thanks to the marvels of microelectronics, now we're seeing a bit more meat on the bones of the necessary systems.

7th May 2004, 19:55
Amazing how many people don't read the thread, isn't it!? Listen up, people, this is not remote control of the aircraft from the ground! It is simply controller-to-pilot communication by datalink (ie e-mail) rather than voice. That's all. And, as I said already, it's been in use for some considerable time on the North Atlantic.