Recently, I have been looking into some emerging technology trends within the aviation industry. I stumbled upon a research paper from scientists at the “Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE)” on the Fly-by-wireless concept. Founded in 1909, it was the world’s first dedicated Aerospace engineering school and is currently one of the best in the world.
Currently, in its research & development stage, fly-by-wireless is a new aircraft control concept that relies on a wireless avionics network to control aircraft control surfaces. While providing tangible benefits, there are also significant security concerns and questions that arise as a result of this under-development control method. Is it the future?
Although currently not feasible as a complete replacement of commands sent to actuators in the aircraft, Fly-by-wireless (FBWL) has numerous tangible benefits even in a hybrid configuration when in cooperation with a Fly-by-wire (FBW) or Fly-by-light (fiber optic) system. Currently, many Airbus aircraft are equipped with an AFDX (Avionics Full Duplex Switched Ethernet) system, commonly known as Fly-by-wire. This system provides critical connections to aircraft control surfaces using physical wired connections. However, AFDX is problematic due to the large amount of wiring that it requires in the aircraft.
With Fly-by-wireless, this can mitigate the significant costs incurred as a result of FBW systems. The cost of a kilogram manufacturing and installation of aircraft wire is estimated at $2000, which can add up to a significant amount, around $14 million for an aircraft the size of an A320 to around $50 million for an aircraft the size of a B748. Aircraft wiring was also a major factor in contributing to cost overruns and delays within the A380 program, amounting to over $2 billion for the program. Wired avionics are also susceptible to structural failure and a fire hazard which leads to needing extensive maintenance. The added weight reduction, with up to 2-3% of an aircraft weight being removed, would amount to considerable fuel savings.
But issues arise in regards to a lack of redundancy that may be present within a FBWL system. Many current FBW systems are backed up 3 fold to account for possible failures in the system, would adding some sort of redundancies be possible in a FBWL system? Many propositions for this technology argue in favor of a hybrid model, where wireless systems take over tasks that are not as critical, for example, In-Flight-Entertainment. There is also the question of Cybersecurity and the potential of hacking these systems to take control of an aircraft. Wireless technologies are out of my scope of understanding, but I will leave references below for those interested to learn more.
What do you think, is Fly-by-wireless a viable technology for the future?