During my research,
fly-by-wire has been spoken of as a type of science fiction (Pope, 2014). But
in my relatively short life most advancements in technology has been thought of
as science fiction. Approximately 114 years ago, two brothers, Orville and
Wilbur Wright, invented and took flight in the first airplane in history. In
that time we, as a society, have progressed past sustained flight, we have
reached space, landed on the moon, and traveled to the outer limits of our
solar system. The time we live in is essentially turning science fiction into

Flight controls on
early aircraft designs are what became known as conventional systems. These conventional
systems are made up of mechanical linkages, better explained as, pulleys and
cables. These mechanical linkages connect to a hydraulic motor that actuate the
various control surfaces of the aircraft. In small, general aviation aircraft,
hydraulic motors are not used to actuate the control surfaces, thus, there is
not a need for a fly by wire system on smaller aircraft. Hydraulic motors are
used in all large aircraft (airliners) because the aerodynamic forces involved
would be to great to overcome with ordinary human strength. However, the larger
the aircraft is, the number of pulleys and the length of the cables begin to
increase. This increase in materials obviously causes an increase in weight.

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When it comes to
weight, whether it be in a charter, regional, or major airline, they all want
to cut down on weight to increase their ability to carry more passengers or
cargo. The gradual switch from conventional control systems to fly-by-wire
systems has aided in reducing weight while also making the aircraft safer.

How does the
fly-by-wire system reduce weight? It reduces weight by throwing away the
conventional framework and replacing it with wiring and control sensors. A
small joystick on the side of the cockpit replaces the large floor mounted
control stick of conventional systems. The joystick in combination with several
sensors creates electrical impulses. “These signals are sent to flight-control computers that reconvert the
electrical impulses into instructions for control surfaces” (How It Works, 2012).
When the flight-control computer receives these signals, it interprets and
applies them more precisely than control inputs in a conventional system.

For example: A pilot in a conventional aircraft may
input an abrupt roll to the right and the aircraft will abruptly roll to the
right, and experience a yawing motion to the left due to certain aerodynamic
properties. A pilot in a fly-by-wire aircraft may input an abrupt roll to the
right and the flight-control computer will gently increase bank angle, while
also correcting for those aerodynamic properties that cause the left yawing
motion. Ultimately, keeping passengers from seeing their lunch for a second

Fly-by-wire is inherently safe because it helps
eliminate some of the potential for human error to occur. This is attributed to
the fact that “flight computers can be programmed to carry out adjustments to
control surfaces automatically” (How It Works, 2012). These automated
corrections are implemented via “Gyroscopes fitted in the aircraft which are
connected to the on-board computers. The gyroscopes measure fluctuations in
pitch, roll and yaw and, if the plane strays from its pre-programmed settings,
they move too, triggering the computer to compensate” (How It Works, 2012).

Due to the reduction in weight and the potential
for human error, fly-by-wire control systems are becoming more and more common
in today’s aircraft. Boeing, one of the largest aircraft manufacturers, still
has several models with conventional control systems. However, the 777 has the
newer fly-by-wire system.