Cybernetics part 3 : Cybernetics in aviation | Sunday Observer

Cybernetics part 3 : Cybernetics in aviation

Modern aviation has evolved immensely since the Wright Brothers designed and flew the first aircraft. Flying using only human control and navigation, now has computers run diagnostics on aircraft systems with little to absolutely no human interference. The cyber controlled generation of flight has begun. Scientists, engineers and tech enthusiasts have dived deeper into the field of cybernetics enabling machines to perform tasks without the help of humans.

Cybernetics is defined as, the study of how systems regulate themselves and describes the science of automatic control systems and communication in both machines and living things. In other words, it is the study of how humans and machines communicate with each other. The study of cybernetics can be broken down into a countless number of fields and aviation is one of them.

Over the years engineers and aviators have found a way to link the machine, in this example the aircraft, with human controls. There was a time before cybernetics or even when technology was not yet fully developed or understood, airplanes were flown only by human control. From radar to weather, navigation to the actual flying, everything was done by hand with the aid of mechanical control and hydraulic systems. It was around 1948, post World War II, when the aviation industry entered the information age, when the understanding of technology would be well appreciated. This change into the information age paved the way for the birth of the autopilot system.

The first idea for the autopilot arose when a pilot and engineer, Lawrence Sperry, invented it in 1914. It was quite a success in France. He was also was credited with creating the Artificial Horizon, still used in all aircraft today. Moving forward in time, in 1931, an American aviator by the name of Wiley Post and his navigator Harold Gatty flew around the world in a record-breaking time of eight days, 15 hours and 51 minutes. One of the secrets to his successful flight was the use of the autopilot system he had installed to steer the plane while he rested. It was after the Second World War that the autopilot system was used in commercial aircraft. It was around the same time that the Fly by Wire (FBW) method was introduced. Working hand in hand, the autopilot and FBW would go on to dominate the way we fly to this day and beyond.

The autopilot is an electronic system that performs tasks required to fly the aircraft, think of it as an artificial pilot. It is a flight control system that allows a pilot to fly the airplane without using continuous hands-on control of the aircraft.

The system works by sending signals to the flight control systems and making calculated corrections based on the feedback. The uses of the autopilot help make life easier in the cockpit midflight. The pilot will issue commands to the autopilot via the flight control systems, such as altitude or course heading and the autopilot will execute the commands while the pilots focus their efforts on higher-order tasks such as communicating with the control towers on the ground and running through their flight checks such as contingency plans in case of a midair emergency.

The FBW system works based off the commands carried out by the autopilot. It consists of all the flight control systems and electronics. When the pilot or autopilot inputs commands, for example, the autopilot needs to raise the nose of the plane in order to gain altitude and maintain flight path, it sends an electronic signal to the actuators that control the elevators, this results in the plane achieving lift.

Over the year FBW and the autopilot system have been an integral part of a plane’s safety. The system works using the laws of cybernetics to ensure that the plane remains stable during flight, if there is a problem, the system is designed to use complex programs and algorithms to immediately rectify the problem in a matter of seconds. Although planes can fly independent of a pilot and solve and correct errors midflight, there is still a need for pilots as not all problems can be solved by computers and advanced technology, just yet. The furthest we have come in having a pilot free plane is the Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV) which is still controlled remotely by pilots on the ground.