A ground proximity warning system (GPWS) is a system designed to alert pilots if their aircraft is in immediate danger of flying into the ground or an obstacle. The United States Federal Aviation Administration defines GPWS as a type of terrain awareness warning system (TAWS).[1] More advanced systems, introduced in 1996,[2] are known as enhanced ground proximity warning systems (EGPWS), although sometimes confusingly called terrain awareness warning systems.


Main article: Terrain_awareness_warning_system#History

In the late 1960s, a series of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents took the lives of hundreds of people. (A CFIT accident is one where a properly functioning airplane under the control of a fully qualified and certificated crew is flown into terrain (or water or obstacles) with no apparent awareness on the part of the crew.)[3]

Beginning in the early 1970s, a number of studies looked at the occurrence of CFIT accidents.[3] Findings from these studies indicated that many such accidents could have been avoided if a warning device called a ground proximity warning system (GPWS) had been used. As a result of these studies and recommendations from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in 1974 the FAA required all large turbine and turbojet airplanes to install TSO-approved GPWS equipment.[3][4]

C. Donald Bateman, a Canadian-born engineer, developed and is credited with the invention of GPWS.[5]

In March 2000, the U.S. FAA amended operating rules to require that all U.S. registered turbine-powered airplanes with six or more passenger seats (exclusive of pilot and copilot seating) be equipped with an FAA-approved TAWS.[3] The mandate affects aircraft manufactured after March 29, 2002.[6]

Effects and statistics Edit

Prior to the development of GPWS, large passenger aircraft were involved in 3.5 fatal CFIT accidents per year,Template:Citation needed falling to 2 per year in the mid-1970s. Since 1974, when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration made it a requirement for large aircraft to carry such equipment, there has not been a single passenger fatality in a CFIT crash by a large jet in U.S. airspace.[7]

After 1974, there were still some CFIT accidents which GPWS was unable to help prevent, due to the blind spot of those early GPWS systems. More advanced systems were developed.

Older TAWS systems, or deactivation of the EGPWS system, or ignoring its warnings when airport is not in its database[8] still leave aircraft vulnerable to possible CFIT incidents. In April 2010, a Polish Air Force Tupolev Tu-154M aircraft crashed near Smolensk, Russia, in a possible CFIT accident[9] killing all passengers and crew.[10][11][12][13] The aircraft was equipped with TAWS made by Universal Avionics Systems of Tucson.[10] According to the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee TAWS was turned on.[14] However, the airport where the aircraft was going to land (Smolensk (XUBS)) is not in the TAWS database.[15][16] In January 2008 a Polish Air Force Casa C-295M crashed in a CFIT accident near Mirosławiec, Poland, despite being equipped with EGPWS; the EGPWS warning sounds had been disabled, and the pilot-in-command was not properly trained with EGPWS.[17]

Commercial aircraft Edit


The system monitors an aircraft's height above ground as determined by a radio altimeter. A computer then keeps track of these readings, calculates trends, and will warn the captain with visual and audio messages if the aircraft is in certain defined flying configurations ("modes").

The modes are:

  1. Excessive descent rate ("SINK RATE" "PULL UP")
  2. Excessive terrain closure rate ("TERRAIN" "PULL UP")
  3. Altitude loss after take off or with a high power setting ("DON'T SINK")
  4. Unsafe terrain clearance ("TOO LOW – TERRAIN" "TOO LOW – GEAR" "TOO LOW – FLAPS")
  5. Excessive deviation below glideslope ("GLIDESLOPE")
  6. Excessively steep bank angle ("BANK ANGLE")
  7. Windshear protection ("WINDSHEAR")

Traditional GPWS does have a blind spot. Since it can only gather data from directly below the aircraft, it must predict future terrain features. If there is a dramatic change in terrain, such as a steep slope, GPWS will not detect the aircraft closure rate until it is too late for evasive action.

In the late 1990s improvements were made and the system was renamed "Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System" (EGPWS/TAWS). The system was now combined with a worldwide digital terrain database and relies on Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. On-board computers compared its current location with a database of the Earth's terrain. The Terrain Display now gave pilots a visual orientation to high and low points nearby the aircraft.

EGPWS software improvements were focused on solving two common problems; no warning at all, and late or improper response.

No warningEdit

The primary cause of CFIT occurrences with no GPWS warning is landing short. When the landing gear is down and landing flaps are deployed, the GPWS expects the airplane to land and therefore, issues no warning. EGPWS introduces the Terrain Clearance Floor (TCF) function, which provides GPWS protection even in the landing configuration.

Late warning or improper responseEdit

The occurrence of a GPWS alert typically happens at a time of high workload and nearly always surprises the flight crew. Almost certainly, the aircraft is not where the pilot thinks it should be, and the response to a GPWS warning can be late in these circumstances. Warning time can also be short if the aircraft is flying into steep terrain since the downward looking radio altimeter is the primary sensor used for the warning calculation. The EGPWS improves terrain awareness and warning times by introducing the Terrain Display and the Terrain Data Base Look Ahead protection.

Incidents Edit

In Commercial and Airline operations there are legally mandated procedures that must be followed should an EGPWS caution or warning occur. Both pilots must respond and act accordingly once the alert has been issued. An Indonesian captain has been charged with manslaughter for not adhering to these procedures.[19]

The other sample of incident of plane with EGPWS/TAWS is 2010 Polish Air Force Tu-154 crash where all 96 people onboard (including then President of Republic of Poland) died.

General aviation Edit

Main article: TAWS#TAWS Types

TAWS equipment is not required by the U.S. FAA in piston-engined aircraft, but optional equipment categorized as TAWS Type C may be installed. Depending on the type of operation, TAWS is only required to be installed into turbine-powered aircraft with six or more passenger seats.

A smaller and less expensive version of EGPWS was developed by AlliedSignal (now merged with Honeywell) for general aviation and private aircraft.[20]

Military fast jet Edit

For military fast-jets, the high speed and low altitude which may frequently be flown, make traditional GPWS systems unsuitable as the blind spot becomes the critical part. Thus an enhanced system is required, taking inputs not only from the radar altimeter but also from inertial navigation system (INS), Global Positioning System (GPS), and flight control system (FCS), and using these to accurately predict the flight path of the aircraft up to Template:Convert ahead. Digital maps of terrain and obstacle features are then used to determine whether a collision is likely if the aircraft does not pull up at a given pre-set g-level. If a collision is predicted a cockpit warning may be provided. This is the type of system deployed on such aircraft as the Eurofighter Typhoon.[21] The U.S. FAA has also conducted a study about civilizing 3D military thrust vectoring to recover jetliners from catastrophes.[22]

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  2. Template:Cite web
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Note: Original text copied from U.S. FAA Circular AC23-18 [1]. As a work of the U.S Government, there is no copyright on the work, and it may be freely copied, and is thus included here. Additional or reduced text and formatting, not included in the original, have been added here for clarity and emphasis.
  4. (§§ 121.360 and 135.153) (39 FR 44439, December 18, 1974)
  5. Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Template:Cite web
  8. Template:Cite web
  9. Template:Cite web
  10. 10.0 10.1 Template:Cite news
  11. Template:Cite web
  12. Template:Cite web
  13. Template:Cite web
  17. Template:Cite web
  19. Template:Cite web
  20. Template:Cite web
  21. Eurofighter Typhoon – BAE SYSTEMS delivers first Eurofighter Typhoon Ground Proximity WarningTemplate:Dead link
  22. "Multiaxis Thrust Vectoring Flight Control Vs Catastrophic Failure Prevention", Reports to U.S. Dept. of Transportation/FAA, Technical Center, ACD-210, FAA X88/0/6FA/921000/4104/T1706D, FAA Res. Benjamin Gal-Or, Grant-Award No: 94-G-24, CFDA, No. 20.108, Dec. 26, 1994; "Vectored Propulsion, Supermanoeuvreability, and Robot Aircraft", by Benjamin Gal-Or, Springer Verlag, 1990, ISBN 0-387-97161-0, 3-540-97161-0.

References Edit

External links Edit

Template:Satellite navigation systems