Lockheed Martin made history recently when, for the first time, it tested an F-16 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio with electric rather than hydraulic flight control actuation. "Recent advances in power switching, capacitors, and high-voltage dc power electronics were the primary technical breakthrough to allow development to be successful," says Dennis Eicke, a mechanical engineer and the program manager for the F-16 project. "There is still a place for hydraulics in F-16s, but the move to electric actuation allows us the flexibility to integrate redundancy and emergency systems differently," he says. Eicke adds that electric actuation is an enabler technology that simplifies the whole power generation and distribution system. "Electric actuation with the integrated subsystems approach selected for JSF provides additional benefits in reduced aircraft weight, improved survivability, and improved maintainability," he says. The switch from hydraulic to electric actuation translates into a 15% reduction in the fighter plane's vulnerable area, a 5% reduction in aircraft procurement costs, a 6% reduction in gross take-off weight, and a 13% reduction in lifecycle cost compared to current F-16s. For the purpose of the test, some hydraulic components remained in the F-16, according to Dick Kotalik, an electrical engineer and technical team leader at Parker Hannifin's Control System Div., the company that supplied the electro-hydrostatic actuators (EHAs) for the test aircraft. Five EHAs replaced the conventional hydraulic actuators to control the flaperons, horizontal tail, and rudder. For more information about hydraulics, contact Kotalik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As manufacturers add new technologies to their products, designing for compliance becomes more difficult. Prepare for the certification testing process. Otherwise, you increase the risk of discovering a safety issue after a product leaves the assembly line. That will cause significant time-to-market delays, be much costlier to fix, and damage your brand in the eyes of customers.
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