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What does fly-by-wire mean?

FBW systems replace mechanical flight controls with an electronic interface to provide semi-automatic, computer-controlled flight control of aircraft.

In response to the pilot’s movements, the aircraft’s flight control computers (FCCs) interpret those signals and adjust actuators that move the flight control surfaces. Sensors throughout the aircraft are also monitored by computers so that automated adjustments can be made to ensure the best possible flight. Using sensor data from active control sticks, the FCC creates “tactile cueing”, which provides pilots with tactile feedback. They sense how the aircraft is moving and how its aerodynamic limits are affected by the FCC.

Pilots move levers, rods, cables, pulleys, and more in traditional mechanical and hydro-mechanical flight control systems to change control surfaces according to aerodynamic conditions. Pilots are able to direct, tactilely feel how the aircraft is handle aerodynamic forces while flying with their “hands on” design. Additionally, mechanical systems are bulky, heavy, and require frequent maintenance, are difficult to use, and require constant monitoring.

Fly-by-wire is also lighter and less bulky than mechanical controls, which can increase fuel efficiency and allow for more flexible aircraft designs, even in legacy aircraft. Additionally, most fly-by-wire systems come with triple or quadruple redundancy back-ups to prevent flight critical failures. Fly-by-wireless, fly-by-optics, power-by-wire, and other innovations are also in development for the system.

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