Stock Photos from Chesky / Shutterstock

Honeywell debuts fly-by-wire system for urban air mobility, electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft

Honeywell (NYSE:HON) engineers in Phoenix have packed the “brains” of an airliner’s flight controls into a “fly-by-wire” computer system designed to provide the next step toward autonomous and urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles.


Honeywell’s flight control computer is designed to add stability to revolutionary UAM and automated aircraft designs by driving electric actuators and dynamically adjusting flight surfaces and motors for following flight paths smoothly. The new system helps reduce turbulence and enables designers to push the limits of aerodynamics, eliminating the need for heavy hydraulics, control cables, or pushrods, officials explain.


Honeywell's technology enables “these innovative aircraft to fly more safely, accelerating a whole new era in what is quickly emerging as a new transportation economy," says Carl Esposito, president, Electronic Solutions, Honeywell Aerospace.


UAM vehicle
Stock Photos from Chesky / Shutterstock


The flight control computer benefits from architectural features derived from Honeywell's existing compact fly-by-wire systems for airplanes and is built to aviation industry certification standards, for the highest availability and integrity. It features a triplex flight control computer architecture, providing multiple backup options and reducing risk, and uses lockstep processing, meaning it has two processing channels that constantly check each other's work. These features are intended to provide the safest and most reliable operation to meet the future requirements of transporting passengers in highly populated urban areas, officials say.


The fly-by-wire system’s controls are augmented by electronics versus purely manual controls. The compact computer can be held in one hand compared with similar technologies installed on larger aircraft that are roughly the size and weight of a fully loaded suitcase. Honeywell's solution is designed to draw less power and cost a fraction of current systems, and can be used on multiple aircraft types, including more traditional aircraft vehicle designs.


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“Aircraft designers can use the compact flight control computer out of the box with easy-to-use development tools," Esposito adds. "It was designed for connectivity to achieve better maintenance and improved fleet operations."


Honeywell will demonstrate the new system at the Uber Elevate Summit in Washington, D.C. on June 11 and 12.


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Honeywell engineers are developing a series of products for the fast-growing UAM market. More than 100 companies worldwide are designing new cargo and passenger aircraft capable of on-demand flight across short distances, many of them self-flying and able to take off and land vertically.


Honeywell has also debuted its hybrid-electric turbogenerator prototype, designed to power the multiple propellers and fans found on many new urban air vehicles. The turbogenerator combines the flight-proven HTS-900 turbine with two miniaturized generators, producing a total of 400 kilovolts.


Honeywell has signed agreements to develop navigation and automatic landing systems for Volocopter's vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and to develop avionics, radios, navigation, flight control systems, connectivity, and other products for Pipistrel's vertical takeoff and landing aircraft as well as eViation's electric ALICE aircraft.


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Courtney E. Howard is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International. Contact her by e-mail at

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