February 22, 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the first flight of the Airbus A320-100, an aircraft type that has surpassed 5,000 deliveries since its 1987 first flight from the European airframer's Toulouse, France base.
In addition to firmly establishing Airbus in the commercial marketplace, the single biggest contribution of the A320 to commercial aerospace is its digital fly-by-wire flight control system. The Airbus and Boeing philosophies for pilot control have been the centerpiece of a technology debate that has raged for a quarter century now. While the philisophical debate has diverged among airframers, the value of digital fly-by-wire implementation is settled law.
At today's Aeronautics and Space Engineering board meeting at The National Academy of Sciences, in Washington, DC, Dale Klapmeier, founder of Cirrus Aircraft, spoke of the flat safety record for general aviation which has matched the growth in the industry. In short, general aviation, unlike commercial aviation, has not gotten any safer as technology has evolved.
Cirrus was at the forefront of increasing the automation in its single-engine general aviation aircraft with the introduction of the Avidyne Entegra in 2003 aboard its four-seat SR22 aircraft. The airframer, based in Duluth, Minnesota, and now owned by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), has evolved its glass avionics to include its Garmin G1000 based Cirrus Perspective system, which features expansive "highway in the sky" synthetic vision and enhanced vision systems, as well as a "LVL" or level button to return the aircraft to straight and level flight, assuming the aircraft's bank does not exceed 75° and the pitch does not exceed 50°.
Similar avionics systems are also implemented on Beechcraft, Cessna, Diamond, Mooney, Piper, and Quest aircraft as well.
With the technology developed by Cirrus and other general aviation airframers, Klapmeier says that a Cirrus pilot will hand fly for roughly 45 seconds, just after takeoff and just before landing.
"There is very little airmanship left in aviation," he says.
That figure nearly mirrors that of a commercial airline pilot, though an SR22 pilot has access to virtually the same, if not more advanced avionics than those available in the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, but the difference in pilot training and experience are stark.
Klapmeier is of the opinion that training regimes that have always emphasized aviate, navigate, communicate as the tenets of flying need to add "automate" as one of its characteristics to safely bring the technology to bear to enhance the other three priorities.
On the flipside, there is a 'self-driving car' model for safety; just remove the pilot from the loop. Klapmeier suggested on Tuesday: "If you want to design an aircraft tomorrow that prevents today's accidents, put the pilot's seat backwards."
With the ubiquity of fly-by-wire on new clean sheet commercial and large business aircraft, both segments of the industry that continue to improve their respective safety records, is there a place in general aviation for hard envelope protections provided by fly-by-wire?
Photo Credit Jonathan Grondin