The 416th and 461st Flight Test Squadrons along with Lockheed-Martin, the F-35 Joint Program Office, NASA and the Defense Safety Oversight Council received the prestigious 2018 Robert J. Collier Trophy, June 13, 2019, for the development and testing of the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System.
“If you look back over the history of the award over the years, many of the winners are teams that came together,” said Greg Principato, president and CEO, National Aeronautic Association. “Having a team that represents the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Air Force, NASA, and Lockheed-Martin, I really think it just fits in just great with the collaborative history of aviation and history of this award.”
The large bronze Collier Trophy, said to represent “The genius of Man, which having conquered Gravity (male figure) and Contrary Wings (female figure) and having touched the bird and found its secrets, soars from earth a conqueror.” The award has been given for over a century for what the Collier Trophy Selection Committee considers the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in the U.S., with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles. The Auto GCAS team are now among the greatest aviators and aerospace pioneers such as Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, Chuck Yeager, Mercury 7 Astronauts and the Apollo 11 Astronauts, that have won the Collier Trophy. The trophy is on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
In 2018, the Auto GCAS team successfully completed rapid design, integration and flight test of the critical, life-saving technology on the F-35, continued implementation for multiple F-16 users, advanced the technology to civil aviation, and set certification standards that marked aviation’s entry into the age of autonomy.
“We saw a need to implement Auto GCAS on F-16s years ago,” said Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton, former 461st Flight Test Squadron commander and F-35 Integrated Test Force Director. “The team came together, proved the technology, advocated it, and got it into F-16s.”
The System utilizes a suite of sensors, on-board monitors and flight data to determine if a plane is on course for a probable ground collision. Based on the plane’s trajectory, speed, and lack of input from the pilot, the system then calculates the best way to recover to a safe trajectory. Since the system entered service with the Air Force in late 2014, Auto GCAS has been credited with seven saves – eight pilots and seven aircraft.
“Because of that work, we were able to lay the foundation for F-35 Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance and accelerate the implementation on that platform by seven years,” said Hamilton.
The effort to test the system on the F-35A was headed by the 412th Test Wing’s 461st Flight Test Squadron, as part of the F-35 Auto GCAS Team. The whole team consisted of engineers and pilots from the Air Force, the F-35 Joint Program Office, NASA, Lockheed-Martin and the Defense Safety Oversight Council.