BAE Systems Develops Civil Aircraft Active Control Stick

Farnborough Air Show » 2012
July 10, 2012, 12:30 PM

BAE Systems is migrating “active inceptor” control technology from military aircraft to civil applications–enabling direct pilot inputs into the flight controls of commercial fly-by-wire (FBW) aircraft. The UK-based company is developing its civil active control stick (ACS) for an unnamed commercial launch customer.

Active inceptor technology was developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and JAS 39 Gripen fighters and the UH-60 and CH-53 helicopters. Active control sticks also will be implemented on the Embraer KC-390 military transport, which is being developed for dual military and civil certifications. The KC-390 is expected to enter service in 2016.

Active inceptors enable pilot inputs to be transmitted to the actuators controlling flight surfaces in an aircraft’s FBW system, providing “stick to surface” functionality. In turn, the system provides tactile cues or resistance back to the pilot to mimic the feel of the aircraft. Passive inceptors are those that provide tactile information through the use of springs and dampers.

Advantages of active inceptors, according to BAE, include increased pilot awareness of flight modes and conditions, and warnings of impending flight envelope limits through tactile feedback. Helicopter pilots experience improved handling while hovering or flying at low speeds, or in degraded visual conditions.

“What it means is that we can actually change the characteristics of the stick and do it in real-time,” working in conjunction with the FBW system, said Nigel Wright, BAE Systems director of flight controls and displays, Commercial Aircraft Solutions.

BAE accomplished the first flight of a multi-redundant, safety critical ACS on the X-32 and X-35 Joint Strike Fighter candidates in 2000, and started development of an active sidestick controller on the winning Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in 2001. It started development of the first production helicopter active cyclic and collective controls in 2005. The ACS civil certification effort for the unnamed launch customers began in 2010, followed by the KC-390 active stick development this year. BAE claims to be the only manufacturer with active inceptors in production, providing “a tremendous tie-up” with the company’s military and commercial FBW systems, said Wright.

“We’ve been on quite a journey with this product and invested quite a lot of money to move it forward,” said Wright. “It isn’t quite as simple as taking a passive inceptor and bolting on a motor.”

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