Fly-by-wire (FBW) systems are semi-automatic, computer-regulated aircraft flight control systems that replace mechanical flight controls with an electronic interface. When the pilot moves flight controls, those movements are converted into electronic signals, which are then interpreted by the aircraft’s flight control computers (FCC) to adjust actuators that move flight control surfaces. Computers also monitor sensors throughout the aircraft to make automatic adjustments that enhance the flight. When equipped with active control sticks, the FCC also uses sensor data to create “tactile cueing” – sensory feedback to the pilot in the form of improved physical “feel” for the aircraft’s motions and aerodynamic limits.
Traditional mechanical and hydro-mechanical flight control systems use a series of levers, rods, cables, pulleys, and more which pilots move to adjust control surfaces to aerodynamic conditions. Their “hands on” design gives pilots a direct, tactile feel for how the aircraft is handling aerodynamic forces as they fly. On the other hand, mechanical systems are also complicated to operate, need constant monitoring,
are heavy and bulky, and require frequent maintenance.
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.
Because fly-by-wire is electronic, it is much lighter and less bulky than mechanical controls, allowing increases in fuel efficiency and aircraft design flexibility, even in legacy aircraft. The fly-by-wire computers act to stabilise the aircraft and adjust the flying characteristics without the pilot’s involvement and to prevent the pilot operating outside of the aircraft’s safe performance envelope.
And to prevent flightcritical failure, most fly-by-wire systems also have triple or quadruple redundancy back-ups built into them. Further innovations to the system are also in development, including fly-by-wireless, fly-by-optics, power-by-wire, and more.
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.
The aircraft fly-by-wire system market is set to grow by USD 2.64 billion, progressing at a CAGR of over 8% during 2021-2025.
The aircraft fly-by-wire system market is driven by the growing development of multirole fighter aircraft. In addition, the increasing demand for new generation commercial aircraft that feature advanced cockpit controls is anticipated to boost the growth of the Aircraft Fly-by-wire System Market.
Multirole aircraft find applications in air-to-air combat and air-to-ground attacks. Some examples of multirole designs are F-15E Strike Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, F-35 Lightning II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Eurofighter Typhoon, JAS 39 Gripen, MiG-29, MiG-35, Su-35, Su-30, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The power-by-wire system of F-35 represents a key advancement in the more electric aircraft topology. It integrates self-contained electro-hydrostatic actuators (EHAs) to position primary flight surfaces. An increase in the number of contracts of multirole fighters increases the demand for integration components such as FBW. Therefore, the rise in the production of such multirole aircraft is exponentially driving the demand for FBW-based FCSs, especially in military aviation.
Aircraft Fly-by-wire System Companies:
BAE Systems Plc
BAE Systems Plc offers Primary flight control, secondary/slats and flaps flight controls and monitoring, actuator control electronics, remote electronics units, rudder and yaw control, stabilizer control and monitoring, spoiler control electronics, and monitoring, and active inceptor systems.
Honeywell International Inc.
Honeywell International Inc. offers a compact fly-by-wire system that uses the latest electronics processing technology to ensure safety and performance.
Liebherr-International AG offers a fly-by-wire system through its flight control and actuation systems.
Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lockheed Martin Corp. offers fly-by-wire systems through its subsidiary Sikorsky.
Moog Inc. offers customized aircraft fly-by-wire systems.
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