Tough Electronics Could Benefit Aircraft

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An experiment that began 25,000 feet underground could help aircraft fly higher, farther and more safely. Sandia National Laboratories is developing ultra-durable electronic components, like computer chips, that can withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures of deep-well oil and gas exploration. Well, it turns out the abuse these gadgets take on a drilling rig is comparable to what might happen to them next to an aircraft engine or inside the braking system. That got researchers thinking about the potential benefits of such on-site controls and monitors and they estimate that weight reductions alone could translate into $30 million in fuel savings over the life of an airliner. By placing control electronics on or inside the systems they manage, the need for much of the wiring to connect those electronics to the cockpit is eliminated. That's as much as 600 pounds of wire, the researchers say. But company spokesmen say the technology could play a role in the Air Force's goal of eliminating hydraulics in aircraft, which would offer huge weight and systems reductions (depending, of course, on what they are replaced with). Nevertheless, the company hopes to land some work with the military as a way of reducing the unit costs of the extra-tough components. They now cost about 100 times more than standard gear.