Digital versus delightful

What makes manufacturers who are considering a new aircraft choose fly-by-wire or traditional control systems, sidestick or control yoke? Of course, for a big-jet it’s no contest any longer: it’ll be FBW, but there will still be a wrangle over the pilot’s cockpit control.

Most planned new business jets and some of the latest regional airliners are now rolling off the production lines with FBW flight control systems, so it is clear that the concept of having the pilots’ manual control inputs vetted and – under certain circumstances – modified by a flight control computer system is not considered an issue.

But Bombardier is not going to use FBW for its all-composite Learjet 85 that will see service in 2013. Why? More of that later.


Lear 85.JPG

When the debate comes down to sidestick versus control yoke in a FBW aircraft, it is difficult to see whether the manufacturer choice is a matter of conviction, or a decision to maintain an aircraft family link to make cross-crew qualification easier, or – finally - a matter of culture.

My cultural theory suggests the manufacturer’s choice of a control yoke on a fly-by-wire aircraft is driven by the knowledge that their core pilot market has a traditional idea of the way flightdecks should look and feel.

Is that preference for tradition unique to aviation? Of course not. This affinity for “retro” design is analogous to the preferences of those US truckers and bikers who continue to buy (respectively) new Mack Rawhide trucks and Harley Davidsons despite – or probably because of – their old fashioned design. There’s no question but that they have their own kind of beauty, and they sound – and feel - good.

And in the ads for its chronometer watches, does Breitling display an F-16 or the like? No, it goes for an air-race-modded Mustang to signify beauty combined with speed and power, despite the fact that the F-16′s not only a looker, but it could out-turn – let alone out-run – a P-51, even when the latter has been fitted with a mighty Rolls-Royce Gryphon piston engine with contra-rotating props. 

Anything to back up that theory? Yes, actually, but because marketing statements can be couched in terminology that is intended to be all things to all men, it is difficult to know exactly what to make of Bombardier’s comments to Flight about the projected Learjet 85. On that programme, Flight recently reported: “Bombardier had considered moving to fly-by-wire design and side-stick controller for the Learjet 85, but prompted by customer input, selected a traditional control yoke and control cables, although brake-by-wire will be included.” Bombardier’s Ralph Acs, vice-president for the Learjet 85 programme, explained: “If you’re a Learjet owner, you really like the rock-and-roll ride.”

Interesting, since Bombardier has decided to take the sidestick/FBW route with its CSeries regional jet that will go live the same year.

Get the Paris air show issue of the magazine to read more on the “digital versus delightful” debate. 

One Response to Digital versus delightful

  1. takamine guitar 10 January, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Thanks that was a good read!