Collins Aerospace Systems, a unit of United Technologies Corp., with Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, has developed a new technologically advanced fly-by-wire retrofit solution that enables 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) program.
Designed for safety critical applications, the new system is triple redundant and replaces a mechanical system of rods and pulleys with electromechanical actuators controlled by an enhanced flight control computer. Collins Aerospace engineers worked with Sikorsky to design this "jam free" system with purely magnetic coupling, which eliminates the need for gearing, ball screws or clutches. This marks the first time such a system has been used in a safety critical aerospace application.
The revolutionary design of the fly-by-wire solution allows much of the logic that would typically reside within the primary flight control computer to now reside externally in its own control module or the actuator itself. This further simplifies the system architecture and increases reliability. The system's 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 thus providing a more affordable retrofit option.
This advanced technology offering from Collins Aerospace complements the next-gen Vehicle Management Computer (VMC) that the company announced it was developing at the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show. With 20 times the computing power of the company's existing flight control computer, the VMC will enable fly-by-wire technology and autonomous flight for new and retrofit applications in civil and military aircraft, and is anticipated to reach the market in 2022.
"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," said Power & Controls President Tim White. "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."