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Wireless links to be trialled in Gulfstream flight controls

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Future generations of jet aircraft might use short-range wireless technology to connect cockpit controls to ailerons, elevators or rudders.

Flight International reports that the new fly-by-wireless concept will soon be trialled by biz-jet maker Gulfstream, using an unspecified radio technology to control a spoiler on a company testbed plane.

Traditional aeroplane controls still maintain a mechanical linkage directly from the pilot's hands and feet to the the various surfaces used to manoeuvre the aircraft in flight. As larger aircraft and power-assisted controls have developed, in many cases the direct link no longer exists - leading to so-called "fly-by-wire" control systems, nowadays commonplace.

In turn, as aircraft wiring has become more complex, use is being made of fibre-optic cables to carry more information around the airframe, which is sometimes called "fly-by-light". Gulfstream are also working on this.

However, Pres Henne, engineering chief at Gulfstream, told Flight that in some cases wireless - commonly perceived as flaky and unreliable compared to any kind of hard link - could be better for his purposes.

In particular, it seems that Gulfstream engineers are plagued by the need to deal with a particular scenario in designing their controls, where a rotor bursts in one of the plane's jets. This could theoretically throw high-velocity debris through most parts of the tail, potentially cutting multiple control cables.

Henne and Gulfstream are looking at a wireless system as an emergency mode which could cope with such as situation, rather than as the primary link - "at least in the near term", according to Flight.

We may be waiting a while yet to see fly-by-WiFi, however. Quite apart from all the obvious issues, it seems that powering the receivers, transmitters and actuators is something of an issue in the lost-engine-power scenarios that Gulfstream are looking at. ®

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