How Fiber Optics Will Propel Future Avionics

Avionics International

Published in Avionics International

The use of fiber optics is gaining momentum in modern avionics because it helps solve the size, weight and power (SWaP) challenges in next generation system designs. Fiber optics can handle high-bandwidth applications, weigh less than copper wire, are more immune to Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI) and are more reliable. Fiber optic connectors and components manufacturers are innovating to enhance cockpit management and revolutionize aircraft cabin design.

Fiber optics offer many benefits compared with traditional copper wiring including supporting higher bandwidth, lighter weight, better signal integrity, and immunity from EMI.

  • Fiber optics support bandwidth over 60 Tbps, while copper wiring tops out at 10 Gbps.
  • Fiber optics are lightweight and have a smaller diameter. Typically, a fiber cable weighs approximately 4 lbs. per 1,000 feet, while copper wiring typically weighs 39 lbs. per 1,000 feet.
  • Fiber optics have better signal integrity. Repeater use is needed only approximately every 30 miles, as compared with every three miles for copper wiring, thus minimizing equipment and weight for an aircraft’s onboard network.
  • Fiber optics are immune from EMI. Therefore, electrical noise generated by other equipment will not affect fiber optics, allowing close proximity to equipment and saving space. More important, by preventing signal leakage fiber optics also increase security, as there are no leaks for hackers to tap.

Connector and Interconnect Innovations Enhance Avionics Design

Many avionics applications require high-speed operation. For example, a military fighter is equipped with high-performance radar to detect both targets and incoming missiles. A 4K or 8K high-resolution radar image display in the cockpit requires high-speed processing.

Video cameras onboard the fighters use digital compression to preserve system bandwidth, but at the cost of latency and delayed image display. These trade-offs will be unnecessary in avionics using fiber optics. Instead, with its high bandwidth capability, a fiber-optic based system will be able to deliver real-time imaging without digital or video compression. Doing away with such compression better supports split-second, heat of battle decisions by the pilot based on radar and camera images.

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