Article: No Hands – Automatic Flight Control

  • Image of computer used for first auto-pilot system

    May, 1953, Aircraft & Airport Magazine

    A new device developed for the USAF, which enables an aircraft to perform all sequences of a flight including take-off and landing, without the aid of human hands, has been announced jointly by Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co., and the USAF’s Air Research & Development Command. The development opens the way, M-H says, to automatic long-range flights.

    The device, a highly intricate electrical “brain” called an Automatic Master Sequence Selector (AMSS), operates on the familiar punched-tape principle to program the functions of the autopilot and the airspeed control. When used with this other electrical equipment, the brain fulfills the function of a robot pilot which practically places the human pilot in a monitoring role throughout an entire flight.

    The engineering model of AMSS is now undergoing flight tests with the Flight & All-Weather Testing Directorate at Dayton, Ohio. It was this USAF unit that made flight history in 1947 by flying a C-54 across the Atlantic without the aircraft’s controls being touched by human hands. According to M-H, AMSS can be regarded as the next major step in automatic flight beyond the 1947 achievement.

    M-H visualizes AMSS as the forerunner of equipment which will be required in the foreseeable future, when automatic control and scheduling of aircraft will be a prerequisite of flight navigation. Increasing congestion at major airports and the growing complexity of aircraft will mean that a flight will not take off until it is cleared through for landing at its destination, M-H opines.

    The starting point of automatic flight with AMSS is a flight plan. By means of a specially developed device the plan is punched into tape from either oral or written information. The plan is divided into separate sequences, varying in length from a few seconds for taxiing and take-off to as much as an hour during straight flight time. The plan is put into operation by pushing a start button and from that point the aircraft goes through all the normal maneuvers automatically, including take-off, retraction of undercarriage, climb, course setting, level-off at cruising altitude, and so on.

    During the flight, a rigid time schedule is maintained by another Honeywell device – an Off-Schedule Distance (OSD) computer. This device, working from the navigation computer, measures the distance the plane is ahead or behind its schedule. It then relays instructions to the automatic power controls to regulate the speed of the airplane accordingly.

    As destination nears, a series of sequences bring the aircraft to where it can take advantage of the airport’s automatic approach and landing system. By means of accurate control to these radio beams, the airplane lets down to the runway and finally is braked to a stop.

    Image of computer used for first auto-pilot system

    This article originally appeared in the May, 1953 edition of Aircraft & Airport magazine.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required