F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire
The F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire (DFBW) flight research project validated the principal concepts of all-electric flight control systems now used on nearly all modern high-performance aircraft and on military and civilian transports. The first flight of the 13-year project was on May 25, 1972, with research pilot Gary E. Krier at the controls of a modified F-8C Crusader that served as the testbed for the fly-by-wire technologies. The project was a joint effort between the NASA Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, (now the Dryden Flight Research Center) and Langley Research Center. It included a total of 211 flights. The last flight was December 16, 1985, with Dryden research pilot Ed Schneider at the controls.
The F-8 DFBW system was the forerunner of current fly-by-wire systems used in the space shuttles and on today's military and civil aircraft to make them safer, more maneuverable, and more efficient. Electronic fly-by-wire systems replaced older hydraulic control systems, freeing designers to design aircraft with reduced in-flight stability.
Fly-by-wire systems are safer because of their redundancies. They are more maneuverable because computers can command more frequent adjustments than a human pilot can. For airliners, computerized control ensures a smoother ride than a human pilot alone can provide. Digital-fly-by-wire is more efficient because it is lighter and takes up less space than the hydraulic systems it replaced. This either reduces the fuel required to fly or increases the number of passengers or pounds of cargo the aircraft can carry.
Digital fly-by-wire is currently used in a variety of aircraft ranging from F/A-18 fighters to the Boeing 777. The DFBW research program is considered one of the most significant and most successful NASA aeronautical programs since the inception of the agency.
F-8 aircraft were built originally for the U.S. Navy by LTV Aerospace of Dallas, Texas. The aircraft had a wingspan of 35 feet, 2 inches; was 54 feet, 6 inches long; and was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engine.