Gravity Wins: Electronic landing tools

Gravity Wins Electronic landing tools By Jim Sparks Gravity overcomes lift in every successful landing, and those of us involved in aviation do our best to make sure it is a photo finish more often than not. However, obstacles...


  • Forward Looking Terrain Avoidance (FLTA) enabling the system to determine reduced required clearance when the aircraft does an approach to landing. It also has to predict imminent terrain impact with ample margin to allow the crew to react and implement evasive maneuvers.
  • Premature Descent Alert (PDA). This advises the crew when the aircraft has deviated downward from its predicted vertical path.

Basic Ground Proximity Warning Functions include:

1. Excessive rate of descent

2. Excessive closure rate to terrain

3. Negative climb rate or altitude loss after take-off

4. Flight into terrain when not in landing configuration

5. Excessive downward deviation from the Instrument Landing System Glide Slope.

6. Descent of the aircraft to 500 feet above the terrain or nearest runway elevation and provide a voice callout "Five Hundred"

Class A, TAWS also requires the installation of a flight deck mounted display, which will place an aircraft symbol on a digital terrain map. This presentation may be included on a Weather Radar screen or other type of Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) and must include aircraft position information provided by the Flight Management System (FMS) or GPS along with other navigation systems spelled out in Advisory Circular AC 25-23.

Class A TAWS equipment must be able to present the flight crew with a display that illustrates the aircraft position so that the pilot can estimate the relative bearing and distance to any terrain that may represent a hazard. In addition, the display has to give the crew the ability to identify variations in ground elevations within 2,000 feet of the aircraft. A separate distinguishable alert must be provided in the event of an encounter with hazardous terrain. In the event of a system failure or a condition where the TAWS has been inhibited, some type of alert conforming to the flight deck design philosophy has to be presented to the flight crew.

Class B TAWS

Class B Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems have the same three alert functions but the basic GPWS functions only have to include:


1. Excessive rates of decent.

2. Negative climb rate or altitude loss after take-off.

3. Descent of the aircraft to 500 feet above ground level or nearest runway elevation with a voice callout "Five Hundred".

The Class B version of this system will not require a flight deck display, however, provisions should be made so that a visual indication could be added later.

Horizontal position information is still required with an approved GPS being called out in the Advisory Circular. In addition, there is no requirement for the interface of a Radio Altimeter.

Phase of flight

One of the most important features of TAWS is the ability to recognize the "Phase of Flight."

There are four phases:

  • En-route Phase: The aircraft is more than 15 nautical miles from the nearest airport or whenever the conditions for the remaining three phases are not met.
  • Terminal Phase: The aircraft is within 15 nautical miles of the nearest runway and the distance to the runway is decreasing and the aircraft is at 3,500 feet or below. This phase also applies when the aircraft is within five nautical miles and is flying at or below 1,900 feet above the nearest runway altitude.
  • Approach Phase: Distance to the nearest runway threshold is equal to or less than five nautical miles and height above the nearest runway threshold is equal to or less than 1,900 feet and distance to the nearest runway threshold is decreasing.
  • Departure Phase: This condition should be realized by some reliable device that determines the aircraft is in a weight on wheels state at initial power up. Once the aircraft reaches 1,500 feet above the departure end of the runway the departure phase is terminated.

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