Diamond's Dries: Fly By Wire As "Electronic Parachute"

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Diamond Aircraft says it's very close to flying a fly-by-wire version of its Austro-diesel-powered DA42 twin and the company's CEO Christian Dries told AVweb that he sees this technology as an "electronic parachute." On a visit to Diamond's headquarters at Wiener Neustadt, south of Vienna, AVweb was shown a test project under way in the company's Multi-Platform division that included a conventional stick but electric servos to operate control surfaces. This technology, says Dries, will be incorporated into the autopilot and he believes it will eventually evolve to include both flight envelope protection and full autoland capability for the DA42. Dries told us he sees this technology as the trend of the future and that it's inevitable. In a clear dig at the Cirrus BRS system, Dries calls the technology "an electronic parachute" because once refined, it would be continuously available to bail the pilot out of any unusual flight attitude or emergency and would work passively, which the BRS parachute does not.

Diamond is working on two new models which will be announced at the European Aero show in Friedrichshafen in April, and while those models won't be equipped with fly-by-wire, Dries believes the system will be fielded "much sooner than you think." As for certification hurdles, which would likely be considerable, Dries said the fact that this technology has been certified by the likes of Airbus proves that it can be done. Diamond also has a considerable technical advantage in that FBW could be developed and certified in Diamond's "pilot optional" DA42s, which are finding a lively market in competing against UAVs in the burgeoning surveillance, survey and intelligence-gathering segments. In fact, Dries said, Diamond's principle business has veered away from general aviation so much that two thirds of its revenue comes from its multi-platform technology, which is sold to government and military agencies looking for affordable, quick-to-deploy surveillance solutions. On a tour of the company's Airborne Sensing division, director Markus Fischer told us some 90 DA42-based sensing systems are already in the market, some of which cost as much as $15 million fully equipped. Although that sounds expensive, Fischer says, the manned twins require less ground infrastructure to operate and can be deployed to target sites quickly. Look for an AVweb video on this topic in the coming weeks.