Aircraft maneuver their way through different parts of flight, they must move their various control surfaces accordingly, such as the ailerons and rudders. With controls for such parts located in the cockpit, the pilot can manually operate all of the control surfaces, however fly-by-wire exists in most modern aircraft to reduce the pilot’s responsibility. With many benefits for both the pilot and the flight, fly-by-wire has replaced mechanical and hydraulic systems in the majority of aircraft, from military planes to commercial jets. As such, this blog will offer a look at how this came to be and why fly-by-wire is such a popular choice.
As a computerized system, fly-by-wire first came about in military aircraft in 1973 as a means of maneuvering the aircraft automatically in response to the pilot’s flight adjustments. In place of mechanical and hydraulic systems that a pilot would directly operate to adjust the control surfaces, fly-by-wire is a simpler, lighter method of making flight adjustments. Rather than a pilot adjusting the rudders or other surfaces in response to changes in flight, a computer interprets the pilot’s control input and calculates the right position for the control surfaces.
There are many advantages to aircraft operating on fly-by-wire, from safety to convenience. First, as a computerized system, fly-by-wire eliminates the need for the heavy equipment and hardware previously used by the pilot to operate the control surfaces. As such, this system takes up less space and reduces the overall weight of the aircraft. Furthermore, fly-by-wire systems improve safety as they have less parts that are prone to failure, and there is less room for human error. With less components, this system is also both easier and cheaper to maintain.
Although fly-by-wire takes much of the responsibility away from the pilot, it is not the same as autopilot, and the pilot maintains some responsibility for the control surfaces. For example, the pilot initiates fly-by-wire by making a control input in the cockpit when they move the sidestick or control column. The computer responds to the pilot’s decision and takes the appropriate course of action. Electronic controllers for each surface respond directly to the computer’s instructions. Fly-by-wire systems may also act independently of the pilot in certain situations, stabilizing the aircraft without direct actions on the pilot’s behalf.
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