A Diamond DA42 twin flew recently with a developmental digital control system designed to augment pilot controls with computer automation.
Long available on airliners and business jets such as the Falcon 7X, digital flight control uses computer algorithms to keep the aircraft not only on course and at an appropriate altitude, but also to maintain stability and control in cruise.
With its hardware and software developed in Germany, the Diamond system was test flown over the Austrian Alps. Though the company calls the system “fly-by-wire,” it appears in the company video to retain the DA42’s existing control linkage, rather than the usual meaning of fly-by-wire — remote electrical sensors operating servos that are not mechanically connected to the stick and rudder controls.
The focus of the Diamond system is safety, and the engineers describe its capability in terms of envelope protection. It is designed to sense an overbank or extreme pitch attitude and automatically correct. It is also designed to react to turbulence by sensing its aerodynamic effects on the aircraft and adjusting the controls for smoother flight.
The project contributors spanned several European countries, with the goal to make flying easier and more accessible to more potential pilots. Challenges included designing a system that was lightweight (compared to systems used in larger jet aircraft) and affordable. Another challenge was building in systems redundancy to back up the controls in the event of a malfunction. You can see a European news video on the project here.