That was thanks to the Safe Return Emergency Autoland System, developed by avionics company Garmin with input from aircraft manufacturers including Cirrus and Piper, both of which unveiled the technology this week. When activated, it finds the nearest suitable airport, calculates a flight path that avoids mountains and menacing storm fronts, communicates with air traffic control, and autonomously guides the aircraft onto the runway and to a complete stop. It could have also notified emergency services; Cirrus disabled that function for the demo.
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This isn’t the first feature of its kind, but it’s certainly the most capable. Other commercial autoland systems require continuous oversight by a trained pilot, and are only meant to assist if one of two pilots becomes incapacitated. The tablet-based app Xavion provides similar functionality for private aircraft, but it, too, requires a degree of oversight, and is mostly meant for engine failure situations, with the pilot taking over the glide during the final approach.What’s novel about Cirrus’ system is that it gives the power of flight to even the noobiest of passengers. That red button is easily accessible from both the front seats and the passenger seats behind them, and Safe Return is hardwired into the $2 million Vision Jet’s controls, using autopilot functionality and the small jet’s simplified engine management system to steer the aircraft to a smooth landing and brake to a stop.