Fly-By-Wire Future Developments


Fly-by-optics is sometimes used instead of fly-by-wire because it can transfer data at higher speeds, and it is immune to electromagnetic interference. In most cases, the cables are just changed from electrical to fiber optic cables. Sometimes it is referred to as "Fly-by-light" due to its use of Fiber Optics. The data generated by the software and interpreted by the controller remain the same.


Having eliminated the mechanical transmission circuits in fly-by-wire flight control systems, the next step is to eliminate the bulky and heavy hydraulic circuits. The hydraulic circuit is replaced by an electrical power circuit. The power circuits power electrical or self-contained electrohydraulic actuators that are controlled by the digital flight control computers. All benefits of digital fly-by-wire are retained.

The biggest benefits are weight savings, the possibility of redundant power circuits and tighter integration between the aircraft flight control systems and its avionics systems. The absence of hydraulics greatly reduces maintenance costs. This system is used in the Lockheed Martin F-35 and in Airbus A380 backup flight controls. The Boeing 787 will also incorporate some electrically operated flight controls (spoilers and horizontal stabilizer), which will remain operational with either a total hydraulics failure and/or flight control computer failure.


Wiring adds a considerable amount of weight to an aircraft; therefore, researchers are exploring implementing fly-by-wireless solutions. Fly-by-wireless systems are very similar to fly-by-wire systems, however, instead of using a wired protocol for the physical layer a wireless protocol is employed.

In addition to reducing weight, implementing a wireless solution has the potential to reduce costs throughout an aircraft's life cycle. For example, many key failure points associated with wire and connectors will be eliminated thus hours spent troubleshooting wires and connectors will be reduced. Furthermore, engineering costs could potentially decrease because less time would be spent on designing wiring installations, late changes in an aircraft's design would be easier to manage, etc.

Intelligent Flight Control System

A newer flight control system, called Intelligent Flight Control System (IFCS), is an extension of modern digital fly-by-wire flight control systems. The aim is to intelligently compensate for aircraft damage and failure during flight, such as automatically using engine thrust and other avionics to compensate for severe failures such as loss of hydraulics, loss of rudder, loss of ailerons, loss of an engine, etc. Several demonstrations were made on a flight simulator where a Cessna-trained small-aircraft pilot successfully landed a heavily-damaged full-size concept jet, without prior experience with large-body jet aircraft. This development is being spearheaded by NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. It is reported that enhancements are mostly software upgrades to existing fully computerized digital fly-by-wire flight control systems.