Testing the nervous system of the demonstrator’s (AP3) aircraft

December 2019

The aircraft of demonstrator AP3 will be controlled by an autopilot that allows for full automated mission decisions at all flight operational phases, by flight control computers and sensor suites that deal with any single point of failure, and control surfaces ailerons, all moving horizontal stabilizers and rudders  to control roll, pitch and yaw.

Before we can fly our demonstrator AP3, it is important that we test all individual components and the control system as a whole. A team of System Engineers, Electronical Engineers, Control Algorithms Engineers, and Software Engineers started working on the ‘nervous system’ that connects all different parts of our aircraft in 2018. Today we can run accurate simulations and test parts of the control system with a mockup layout of all avionics in configuration of our aircraft. We simulate all failures identified in our various safety analysis, such as duplicate or corrupted data, and check that the system will correctly detect and handle these. We use actual flight hardware to test the system to its limits. Together, the tests will proof the correct operation of our control system prior to first flight.

We started of small. Taking only a single element, the “emergency manual override” system, for testing. With those tests completed, we added the actuator interface, then the augmented control system, the radio system, the manual input command system, the feedback processing system, etc. to the point that the full control path of the aircraft is communicating and pretending it is flying in an artificial environment.

Our final step will be to upgrade this to an ‘iron bird’ test rig. The iron bird is a similar setup with all flight hardware wiring, sensors and actuators added on top and will be ready in March/April. After a test campaign of several weeks we will be migrating all components from the “iron bird” to the aircraft. We will be placing the nervous system into the skeleton after which the aircraft is ready for roll out.