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Press Release 93-72
Linda S. Ellis
(Bus: 216/433-2900)

Fiber Optics Fly for Better Aircraft Control Systems

Cleveland, OH -- A fiber optic control system that could result in lighter, more fuel-efficient airplanes with more capable control and monitoring systems began actual flight testing today.

Development of the new fiber optic system is managed by NASA's Lewis Research Center, and the flight testing with the F/A-18 Systems Research Aircraft is underway at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, Calif.

"Fiber optics are small bundles of light-transmitting cables that weigh less and take up less space than copper wiring in today's aircraft," said Gary Seng, chief of Lewis' Engine Sensor Technology Branch.

Fiber optics also have better immunity from strong radio signals and lightning, are free from short circuit arcing and can carry more electronic signals, according to Seng.

Replacing copper wire with fiber optics where appropriate offers an unsurpassed ability to transmit commands and data between parts of an airplane. These flight tests will help develop fiber optic components that will carry signals to and from flight controls in tomorrow's civilian transport aircraft.

Weight and fuel savings in transport-type aircraft engineered with fiber optic control systems could be substantial compared with designs using traditional copper wiring. The long copper cables not only weigh more than fiber optics, but also must be shielded with insulation to protect other aircraft systems from signal "leaks."

Digital signals also would travel more quickly between locations in an aircraft equipped with fiber optic controls, because fiber optic cables do not have the built-in resistance that copper cables have to electricity running through them.

NASA uses the Systems Research Aircraft to identify and flight-test the newest and most advanced system technologies that can benefit both civil and military aircraft. Dryden engineers have replaced copper wire with fiber optics wherever possible on the plan to support the flight tests.

The tests are being carried out under the Fiber-Optic Control System Integration (FOCSI) Project, which began at Lewis as a feasibility study in 1985, under NASA and Department of Defense sponsorship.

Ultimately, the tests with the F/A-18 will lay the ground-work for NASA's Fly-By-Light/Power-By-Wire (FBL/PBW) technology program, which absorbed the Fiber-Optic Control System Integration (FOCSI) Project in 1992. The eight-year projected $80-million FBL/PBW program is aimed at developing and demonstrating fiber-optic control systems and all-electric secondary power systems for civil transports.

Under Phase II of FOCSI which began in 1988, prime contractors McDonnell Douglas and General Electric have developed, with their subcontractors, aircraft and engine optical sensors and control systems. NASA Lewis is the lead center for FOCSI. Partial funding is provided by Naval Air Systems Command. The Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division, provided key optical data bus hardware to the program.

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EDITORS NOTE: A color photograph depicting the FOCSI Flight System Configuration is available by calling 216/433-2901.


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