Collins Aerospace and Sikorsky enable autonomous flight with new fly-by-wire retrofit solution
"Jam-free" system uses purely magnetic coupling and is installed without re-qualification of hydraulic system.
Collins Aerospace Systems and Sikorsky have developed a new technologically advanced fly-by-wire retrofit solution enabling autonomous flight for rotary and fixed-wing aircraft.
The technology was demonstrated as part of Sikorsky's Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) system. Sikorsky's S-70 OPV Black Hawk flew for the first time on May 29 as part of the DARPA Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) programme.
System eliminates gearing and clutches
The new system is designed for safety-critical applications. It is triple-redundant and replaces a mechanical system of rods and pulleys with electromechanical actuators controlled by an enhanced flight control computer.
Engineers from Collins Aerospace, a unit of United Technologies Corp, worked with Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, to design the "jam-free" system with purely magnetic coupling, which eliminates the need for gearing, ball screws or clutches.
Both organisations claim this is the first time that such a system has been used in safety-critical aerospace applications.
The fly-by-wire solution allows much of the logic typically residing within the primary flight control computer to reside externally within its own control module or the actuator itself.
The designers claim this will simplify the system architecture and increases reliability.
The system design allows it to be installed without modifying the hydraulic system or hydraulic actuator, removing the need for re-qualification of the hydraulic system and providing a more affordable retrofit option.
This advanced technology offering from Collins Aerospace complements the Vehicle Management Computer (VMC) that the company announced at the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show.
VMC has 20 times the computing power of the company's existing flight control computer and will enable fly-by-wire technology and autonomous flight for new and retrofit applications in civil and military aircraft. It is anticipated to reach the market in 2022.
Collins Aerospace Power & Controls President Tim White said: “With fly-by-wire retrofit solutions like this one and our forthcoming Vehicle Management Computer, Collins Aerospace is at the forefront of enabling autonomous flight. By reducing pilot workload through the autonomous performance of certain flight operations, we can help improve safety, reliability and efficiency for both military and commercial operators across a variety of platforms."