Have you ever wondered what keeps commercial airliners in the sky?
Aside from lift from the wings and thrust from the engines, there’s a lot of technology that makes planes fly farther and more efficiently than ever before.
Even the best pilots need assistance to guide their commercial planes when they’re coasting at 38,000 feet.
So what is it?
Avionics flight software is the heart of every commercial airliner in the sky. Different systems control different aspects of the plane’s performance as well as to detect failures and weather threats.
In this article, we’ll be going over the essential flight software that every airliner needs to make flights more efficient and safe.
What Is Avionics Flight Software?
Avionics flight software is software that has been embedded into a more extensive flight management system and acts as a controller or specific function.
This means flight systems have different types of flight software that control various functions of the aircraft.
This software follows critical safety protocol and is required by law to go through assessments to make sure that software is free from error and malfunction.
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So what are the basic types of software that most commercial airliners use? Let’s take a look.
One thing that an aircraft shouldn’t have is a failure in its system that can cause loss of control in the plane.
Boeing’s 787 and Airbus’s A380 have redundancy flight management systems in case more than one system fails. Most systems on board have more than one system that does the same function. If one system fails or if both systems fail, it’s up to redundancy management to determine which is at fault system.
Almost every airliner in the sky has some type of collision avoidance system. These systems help alert pilots about the potential of colliding with something midair, vertical structures such as towers or buildings, or the ground itself. Here’s a look at the different types of collision avoidance software.
This software, known as Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), helps reduce accidents that happen in mid-air between aircraft. The system has a display that pinpoints where neighboring traffic is located in the airspace around them.
This system is independent of air traffic control and works with other planes that have active transponders, which alerts its location.
If traffic around the planes gets to near its flight path, the system will sound three different audible alerts.
Traffic Advisory TA
Instructs pilots to do a visual search around the airspace to avoid a possible collision. The audible alert will sound as Traffic, traffic.
Resolution Advisory RA
Pilots are expected to respond to a potential collision unless maneuvering would jeopardize the safe operation of the flight. This alert has many different audible alerts depending on what type of traffic may cross the plane’s path.
RA audible alerts:
- Climb. Climb
- Descend. Descend
- Increase climb
- Increase descent
- Reduce climb
- Reduce descent
- Climb; climb now
- Descend; descend now
- Maintain vertical speed; Maintain
- Level off, level off
- Monitor vertical speed
Clear of Conflict
Pilots are alerted that a possible collision with another aircraft has been avoided, and the pilot must return promptly to Air Traffic Control’s directions.
Most planes are equipped with advanced radar systems that can help detect bad weather in their area.
In the last decade, aviation weather apps such as Myradar have become a staple in-flight aviation. With over 26 million downloads, this app is available for pilots to use on a tablet or mobile device, and can give detailed in-flight information on the following:
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) alerts
- Air and wind temperatures
- Weather forecasts
- Hurricane tracking
- Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) tracking
- Displays ATC-assigned flight paths on the map
Honeywell is another company that is taking orders for advanced cockpit radar software systems for major airline companies. Their new radar system that displays in 3-D that helps detect, review, and analyze weather information during pre-flight and in-flight operations.
Honeywell’s biggest competitor, Collins Aerospace Inc., has also rolled out its own weather analyzing flight software, MultiScan ThreatTrack. Airline companies such as American Airlines Inc. plans to install these systems on all of their new Boeing 787s aircraft. Other flight software that detects weather includes Foreflight Logbook, AeroPlus, and AeroWeather.
The Flight Data Recorder, known by its moniker, Blackbox is a two-system device that helps investigators of a plane crash gather information from take-off to its final moments. These two systems are:
Flight Data Recorder (FDR)
This system preserves the history of the flight by recording different parameters and conditions of the flight, such as time, altitude, airspeed, aircraft attitude, and heading information.
With the data compiled from the FDR, investigators can reconstruct an animated video of the flight, which proves valuable at determining the cause of a crash.
Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)
The CVR records the sounds that occur in the cockpit as well as the verbal communication between the captain, first officer, and crew.
Investigators pay attention to what the pilots are talking about during the final moments of the flight, as well as engine noises, stall warnings, alerts, and landing gear extension and retraction.
Ground flight Software
Flight software that manages planes on the ground is just as crucial as the in-flight software we talked about to keep planes in the sky. Software such as Airline Suite, Quantum MX, or AvPro software maintains fleet operations for airlines such as:
- Aircraft maintenance
- Maintenance logbook tracking
- Flight scheduling
- Shop control
- Parts search
- Crew communication
Cleared For Take-Off
Aviation is a complicated subject to some, but we hope this article gave you a better understanding of the flight software technology used to keep commercial planes in the sky. Next time you take a flight, board early and talk to crew in the cockpit about how some of those flight systems work.
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