With the increasing development of aircraft with more-integrated systems, the role of simulation technology assists airframers in demonstrating not only the flying characteristics of a new aircraft, but the underlying software that unites once disparate systems into a single airborne ecosystem.
Montreal-based CAE has expanded its portfolio from its simulation and training business into the aircraft development space, leveraging competencies honed when designing Boeing's 787 simulator to reduce risk on future programmes.
The company is set to play a significant role in the development of Bombardier's new 110- to 149-seat CSeries CS100, due to enter service in 2013.
As the CSeries programme nears design freeze, the disparate aircraft systems will be brought together inside the airframer's new CSeries Integrated Systems Aircraft Test Area (CIASTA).
CAE was selected by Bombardier at the 2009 Paris air show to offer its Augmented Engineering Environment to develop and integrate CIASTA at the airframer's Mirabel facility, designed with the goal of maturing aircraft systems earlier in the programme.
"The integration process in the simulator is very similar to what happens when you put the first aircraft together," says Marc St-Hilare, CAE's vice-president of core technologies. "We saw it as a valuable offer to the OEM, making the simulation technology, the computing technology, the computing network, available to them to integrate and test the aircraft systems ahead of putting them on to the aircraft."
CIASTA will serve as a home to engineering simulators, an integration laboratory for the fly-by-wire and flight controls, cabin and environmental control systems, avionics and electrical systems integration test rig, and an integrated systems test and certification rig.
However, as these different systems come together, each must communicate with the aircraft as a whole. CAE provides that common language.
St-Hilare likens CAE's role to creating a Microsoft Windows-like platform seamlessly running an "Office"-like suite of applications. Bombardier acts as that suite, whereas the individual applications inside the suite, such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, are the aircraft's systems, each serving a distinct function.
"We provide the overall environment where everyone can play without being a specialist," says St-Hilaire. Each aircraft system, he adds, is equivalent to "a [Microsoft] Office "Powerpoint" operator and they don't realise they're interacting with all that computing technology. We make all the back end transition to the machine."
CAE's contribution to CIASTA consists of several key components, including a host networking computer system, delivered this year, designed to run the systems simulation models virtually.
Second, an engineering development simulator, expected to be delivered in the second quarter of 2011, includes the first system "black boxes", a complete flightdeck environment with a collimated vision system similar to a full-flight simulator.
As the engineering simulator evolves, CAE will supply a "synthetic aircraft" interface for the integrated systems test and certification rig that will take physical aircraft systems through normal and abnormal operations to validate functionality and reliability, as well as satisfy certification requirements.
"You need a simulation model to validate your choices early, otherwise once the thing is built, you get spinning into 'change this, change that' and you're in the phase of the programme where a lot is committed already, committed the hard way, things are already built, its deployed, there's work in progress, it's installed in the aircraft," says St-Hilaire.
The Canadian airframer experienced months of delays incurred by its new 100-seat CRJ1000 programme, following discovery of a software bug in the aircraft's command-by-wire rudder that grounded the flight-test aircraft.
For Bombardier, this painful lesson has already validated the up-front investment made in developing CIASTA for CSeries.
"If we had had CIASTA for CRJ1000 we could have avoided finding bugs during flight-testing," says Marc Brideau, Bombardier manager for CRJ products.
"In a traditional programme," says St-Hilaire, "you'd see the result of that design freeze at assembly or first flight of the first aircraft, which is a year and a half to two years later, when they are going to put the aircraft together.
"Now with this type of package and philosophy, they're going to see the results of their design freeze this year. Immediately you're going to be able to tackle integration issues, interfacing issues, functionality issues, you'll be tackling this. There's this whole year and a half to two years on the programme that you're advancing your integration, it is invaluable to Bombardier."