Computers are an integral part of the aviation industry and have been since the 1950s when airplanes featured onboard analog computers. The computers assisted in controlling the planes’ functioning and were mostly used by fighter pilots. In aviation, the earliest computers improved radar functioning and offered pilots more control over guns and missiles. Pilots also used a HUD, or heads-up display, to assist them with weapons management.
Today’s airplanes use a flight management system (FMS), which is an embedded computer system capable of automating in-flight tasks. The computer uses sensors to navigate the plane, and create a fast and safe flight plan which reduces the workload for pilots and the rest of the crew.
Advanced Computer Technology was First Implemented to Save Money in the Aviation Industry
Prior to the 1980s, the aviation industry used wind tunnels to test the aerodynamics of aircraft. These expensive structures weren’t needed after advanced computer programs became capable of performing those tests, and conducting computational fluid dynamics (CFD) experiments. This meant a safer, more aerodynamic aircraft without overspending.
According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, “Because powerful computers and CFD programs could be bought by any large company (unlike wind tunnels, which could not be bought from a supplier), commercial aircraft designers no longer had to build models to fly in government wind tunnels.” This saved the aviation industry a lot of money and eventually led to supercomputers being utilized to manage millions of calculations per second (something a human being was never capable of doing).
Supercomputers have resulted in incredible feats of aviation engineering, and eventually led to the creation of the Boeing 777, “the first Twenty-First Century Jet.” It was the first of its kind: “100 percent digitally designed using three-dimensional computer graphics.” It is larger and safer than any passenger planes that pre-dated it.
21st Century Aviation is Driven by Computers
Today, companies such as Kontron (a global leader in embedded computing technology), have developed computing systems capable of testing and operating every aspect of aviation from VPN access to entertainment choices to critical system components. Passengers can book their tickets online, check-in faster using on-site kiosks, and enjoy in-flight entertainment like never before.
Imagine gaming on your international flight; this is a possibility with wireless cabin environments. To test this feature, Kontron has developed the Avionics System Integration Lab (SIL), which simulates this environment and allows airlines to make the passenger experience more comfortable by reducing the time it takes to get connected wirelessly. Moreover, SIL allows airlines to test the system’s ability to work with customer devices prior to and during implementation. For passengers, this means a more rewarding and entertaining flight in a fully connected environment on all of their new-age devices.
The Future of Aviation and Computer
The aviation industry would not be what it is today without the use of computers, but what does the future hold for this industrial coupling?
Auto-pilot is already utilized to fly planes long-distance with little help from a pilot. Imagine if a computer application could do more than takeover on long-distance flights. Imagine if a computer application was capable of taking off and landing without human interaction. It’s possible that aviation could become fully automaton with little need for pilot interaction.
Automaton technology is a long way off, but “the Airborne Internet” is a technology that is being developed to provide pilots with information on weather and other aircraft in the immediate area. Using a global information system, aviation computers will trade information, including flight plans. This is a technology designed to keep passengers, airline staff, pilots, and cargo safe.
It seems the future of flight will result in less accidents, increased safety, and a more entertaining experience for everyone on-board.
Image Source: Manage plane air traffic control distribution aircraft