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Fly-by-wire (FBW) is a system that replaces the conventional manual flight controls of an aircraft with an electronic interface. The movements of flight controls are converted to electronic signals transmitted by wires, and flight control computers determine how to move the actuators at each control surface to provide the ordered response. It can use mechanical flight control backup systems (like the Boeing 777) or use fully fly-by-wire controls.
Improved fully fly-by-wire systems interpret the pilot's control inputs as a desired outcome and calculate the control surface positions required to achieve that outcome; this results in various combinations of rudder, elevator, aileron, flaps and engine controls in different situations using a closed feedback loop. The pilot may not be fully aware of all the control outputs acting to effect the outcome, only that the aircraft is reacting as expected. The fly-by-wire computers act to stabilize the aircraft and adjust the flying characteristics without the pilot's involvement, and to prevent the pilot from operating outside of the aircraft's safe performance envelope.
Mechanical and hydro-mechanical flight control systems are relatively heavy and require careful routing of flight control cables through the aircraft by systems of pulleys, cranks, tension cables and hydraulic pipes. Both systems often require redundant backup to deal with failures, which increases weight. Both have limited ability to compensate for changing aerodynamic conditions. Dangerous characteristics such as stalling, spinning and pilot-induced oscillation (PIO), which depend mainly on the stability and structure of the aircraft concerned rather than the control system itself, are dependent on the pilot's actions.
The term "fly-by-wire" implies a purely electrically signaled control system. It is used in the general sense of computer-configured controls, where a computer system is interposed between the operator and the final control actuators or surfaces. This modifies the manual inputs of the pilot in accordance with control parameters.
A FBW aircraft can be lighter than a similar design with conventional controls. This is partly due to the lower overall weight of the system components and partly because the natural stability of the aircraft can be relaxed, slightly for a transport aircraft, and more for a maneuverable fighter, which means that the stability surfaces that are part of the aircraft structure can therefore be made smaller. These include the vertical and horizontal stabilizers (fin and tailplane) that are (normally) at the rear of the fuselage. If these structures can be reduced in size, airframe weight is reduced. The advantages of FBW controls were first exploited by the military and then in the commercial airline market. The Airbus series of airliners used full-authority FBW controls beginning with their A320 series, see A320 flight control (though some limited FBW functions existed on A310). Boeing followed with their 777 and later designs.
A pilot commands the flight control computer to make the aircraft perform a certain action, such as pitch the aircraft up, or roll to one side, by moving the control column or sidestick. The flight control computer then calculates what control surface movements will cause the plane to perform that action and issues those commands to the electronic controllers for each surface. The controllers at each surface receive these commands and then move actuators attached to the control surface until it has moved to where the flight control computer commanded it to. The controllers measure the position of the flight control surface with sensors such as LVDTs.
Fly-by-wire control systems allow aircraft computers to perform tasks without pilot input. Automatic stability systems operate in this way. Gyroscopes and sensors such as accelerometers are mounted in an aircraft to sense rotation on the pitch, roll and yaw axes. Any movement (from straight and level flight for example) results in signals to the computer, which can automatically move control actuators to stabilize the aircraft.
While traditional mechanical or hydraulic control systems usually fail gradually, the loss of all flight control computers immediately renders the aircraft uncontrollable. For this reason, most fly-by-wire systems incorporate either redundant computers (triplex, quadruplex etc.), some kind of mechanical or hydraulic backup or a combination of both. A "mixed" control system with mechanical backup feedbacks any rudder elevation directly to the pilot and therefore makes closed loop (feedback) systems senseless.
Pre-flight safety checks of a fly-by-wire system are often performed using built-in test equipment (BITE). A number of control movement steps can be automatically performed, reducing workload of the pilot or groundcrew and speeding up flight-checks.
Some aircraft, the Panavia Tornado for example, retain a very basic hydro-mechanical backup system for limited flight control capability on losing electrical power; in the case of the Tornado this allows rudimentary control of the stabilators only for pitch and roll axis movements.
Servo-electrically operated control surfaces were first tested in the 1930s on the Soviet Tupolev ANT-20. Long runs of mechanical and hydraulic connections were replaced with wires and electric servos.
In 1941, an engineer from the Siemens, Karl Otto Altvater developed and tested the first fly-by-wire system for the Heinkel He 111, in which the aircraft was fully controlled by electronic impulses.[unreliable source?]
The first non-experimental aircraft that was designed and flown (in 1958) with a fly-by-wire flight control system was the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow, a feat not repeated with a production aircraft (though the Arrow was cancelled with five built) until Concorde in 1969, which became the first fly-by-wire airliner. This system also included solid-state components and system redundancy, was designed to be integrated with a computerised navigation and automatic search and track radar, was flyable from ground control with data uplink and downlink, and provided artificial feel (feedback) to the pilot.
The first pure electronic fly-by-wire aircraft with no mechanical or hydraulic backup was the Apollo Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV), first flown in 1968. This was preceded in 1964 by the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) which pioneered fly-by-wire flight with no mechanical backup. Control was through a digital computer with three analog redundant channels. In the USSR, the Sukhoi T-4 also flew. At about the same time in the United Kingdom a trainer variant of the British Hawker Hunter fighter was modified at the British Royal Aircraft Establishment with fly-by-wire flight controls for the right-seat pilot.
In 1972, the first digital fly-by-wire fixed-wing aircraft without a mechanical backup to take to the air was an F-8 Crusader, which had been modified electronically by NASA of the United States as a test aircraft; the F-8 used the Apollo guidance, navigation and control hardware.
The hydraulic circuits are similar except that mechanical servo valves are replaced with electrically controlled servo valves, operated by the electronic controller. This is the simplest and earliest configuration of an analog fly-by-wire flight control system. In this configuration, the flight control systems must simulate "feel". The electronic controller controls electrical feel devices that provide the appropriate "feel" forces on the manual controls. This was used in Concorde, the first production fly-by-wire airliner.[a]
A digital fly-by-wire flight control system can be extended from its analog counterpart. Digital signal processing can receive and interpret input from multiple sensors simultaneously (such as the altimeters and the pitot tubes) and adjust the controls in real time. The computers sense position and force inputs from pilot controls and aircraft sensors. They then solve differential equations related to the aircraft's equations of motion to determine the appropriate command signals for the flight controls to execute the intentions of the pilot.
The programming of the digital computers enable flight envelope protection. These protections are tailored to an aircraft's handling characteristics to stay within aerodynamic and structural limitations of the aircraft. For example, the computer in flight envelope protection mode can try to prevent the aircraft from being handled dangerously by preventing pilots from exceeding preset limits on the aircraft's flight-control envelope, such as those that prevent stalls and spins, and which limit airspeeds and g forces on the airplane. Software can also be included that stabilize the flight-control inputs to avoid pilot-induced oscillations.
Since the flight-control computers continuously feedback the environment, pilot's workloads can be reduced. This also enables military aircraft with relaxed stability. The primary benefit for such aircraft is more maneuverability during combat and training flights, and the so-called "carefree handling" because stalling, spinning and other undesirable performances are prevented automatically by the computers. Digital flight control systems enable inherently unstable combat aircraft, such as the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit flying wing to fly in usable and safe manners.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States has adopted the RTCA/DO-178C, titled "Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification", as the certification standard for aviation software. Any safety-critical component in a digital fly-by-wire system including applications of the laws of aeronautics and computer operating systems will need to be certified to DO-178C Level A or B, depending on the class of aircraft, which is applicable for preventing potential catastrophic failures. 781b155fdc