Based on past history, one can be forgiven for being skeptical about military giant BAE Systems’ renewed enthusiasm for commercial aerospace, but officials here at Farnborough say they are getting strong support from the company for the development of new civil products such as active sidesticks for fly-by-wire airliners.
“There is recognition that the growth in commercial cannot be ignored if we want to balance the portfolio,” says Nigel Wright, director flight controls and displays for the commercial aircraft solution business within BAE’s Electronic Systems Sector. “We are getting a tremendous amount of support for new products and systems.”
Those with long enough memories will remember that, after it acquired GEC Marconi and Lockheed’s Sanders business, BAE became a leader in not only military, but also civil fly-by-wire, supplying the high redundant digital flight control system for the Boeing 777. After the 777, however, came “a very quiet period,” Wright acknowledges, as BAE shifted its focus to defense.
That has changed over the past four years, during which time BAE has secured contracts to supply flight-control electronics for the Embraer Legacy 450/500 and KC-390 and Bombardier CSeries. This has resulted in new commercial products including remote electronic units to drive actuators, alternate flight control units to provide independent backup, and the civil active “inceptor” or sidestick.
The civil system is a low-cost implementation of military technology in active inceptors developed for the F-35, T-50, UH-60M and CH-53K, says Wright. Where the military market is interested in using active inceptors to program control characteristics, civil customers are interested in the ability to connect the pilot and copilot sidesticks electrically, eliminating the complex mechanical interconnection linkages under the cockpit floor.
Key to the process has been developing a civil active inceptor that is "ITAR-free", Wright says - free of any export restrictions imposed by US technology-transfer regulations.
BAE secured a launch customer for the civil active inceptor in 2010, but will not identify the aircraft, which uses someone else’s flight-control computers. The company is supplying a similar system for the KC-390, which will also go through civil certification. The Embraer airlifter is BAE’s first commercial “stick-to-surface” FBW implementation, with the company supplying pilot controls, flight-control computers and actuator control electronics.