Automated & Connected

Team responsible for recent F-35 ground collision avoidance software takes Collier Trophy

Two DCS Corp employee-owners – Mark Wilkins and Finley Barfield – were awarded the highly distinguished Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association for their work on the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) team.

When considering the risks that fighter pilots face during combat, it might be surprising that the number one killer is ground collision, or Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT). The danger of CFIT led the Defense Safety Oversight Council (DSOC) to partner with the AFRL to reduce the chances that combat pilots and aircraft would succumb to ground and mid-air collisions. The result of that partnership is the Auto-GCAS on F-16 Fighting Falcons and now the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II aircraft.



CFIT can be caused by target fixation, distraction, spatial disorientation, or unconsciousness due to pulling high-G maneuvers. The Auto-GCAS on F-16 aircraft prevents CFIT through complex algorithms and a digital terrain database. When the system determines a crash is imminent, it takes control of the aircraft, rolls to wings level, and begins a 5g pull until terrain is cleared. By 2010, the team had developed and successfully flight-tested an Auto-GCAS for the F-16 and the USAF decided to field the system on its 600-jet, Block 40/50 F-16 fleet.

Since going operational in 2014, the F-16 Auto-GCAS has been credited with saving seven aircraft and eight pilots. Taking note, the F-35 community followed suit and elected to accelerate fielding the system on the Lightning. In 10 months, the AGCAS was flying and was nearly flawless in-flight test.


Read more: Anti-collision software from the F-16 is now being integrated into first F-35s


DCS continues to support DSOC and AFRL, as the effort has expanded to include automatic air collision avoidance systems, integrated ground/air collision avoidance systems, and programs to explore Auto-GCAS integration for other service branches and large aircraft, such as the C-130, and unmanned aerial vehicles.


Learn more about ground collision avoidance technology


Recognized as “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year,” past award recipients include Orville Wright, Chuck Yeager, the Mercury Seven Astronauts, and Dick Rutan.


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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at