The Digital Age: The effects on the aircraft maintenance industry

The effects on the aircraft maintenance industry By Jim Sparks The term "digital" often brings about thoughts of consumer electronics with labels containing phrases like "All internal components are non-user serviceable" or "Removal of...


The Digital Age

The effects on the aircraft maintenance industry
By Jim Sparks

The term "digital" often brings about thoughts of consumer electronics with labels containing phrases like "All internal components are non-user serviceable" or "Removal of cover by non-authorized personnel voids warranty."

In fact the word digital relates to the way that a computer performs its functions, by counting digits. The computer concept dates back to around 1830 when Charles Babbage developed a very basic mechanical device for performing computations. It wasn't until the mid 1940s that the technology surfaced which provided the foundation for modern digital concepts. The first electronic computer required an entire room and employed vacuum tubes. By today's standards it could only accomplish about the same things as a very basic hand-held calculator.

Digital technology has all but taken over the aircraft maintenance industry. Aircraft systems on many current production aircraft utilize microprocessors to perform tasks originally left up to the pilots, navigators, communications officers, or flight engineers. A microprocessor is often referred to as a computer. It is in fact the most important part of the computer, the stored data.

We now have electronic engine controls (EEC) interfacing with digital automatic flight control systems (DAFCS), that are updated by flight management systems (FMS) that have the ability to choose and tune radio navigation stations. All of the above may then work with the auto landing system. Aircraft systems are not the only digital inroads. Aircraft documentation is now more often than not presented in an electronic format. Plus the tools needed to maintain these new machines often require some basic computer knowledge.

Technology has rapidly progressed from the days of the vacuum tube to the transistor and on to integrated circuits and depending on their function may incorporate more than a million transistors.

Analog and digital
Electronic circuits are broken down into two extensive groupings, analog and digital.
An analog signal may be described as one with continuous values, whereas a digital signal has a discrete or specific value. This can be easily realized by observing an analog voltmeter connected to a variable DC power supply. With the voltmeter selected on the appropriate range and then increasing the output of the power supply slowly from 0 to 10 volts, the sweep of the meter movement will look and display each and every value produced. A digital voltmeter connected to the same power supply will only read specific values. That is if the range is set to read in tenths of a volt, we will observe 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. as voltage is increased. If we reset the meter range we can read in one hundredths of a volt 1.11, 1.12, 1.13, etc. In any case the meter will not display all the values like its analog counterpart.

Decimal Number
Binary Number
Decimal Binary Hexadecimal
1
0
0000
0
2
1
0001
1
3
2
0010
2
4
3
0011
3
5
4
0100
4
6
5
0101
5
7
6
0110
6
8
7
0111
7
9
8
1000
8
10
9
1001
9
11
10
1010
A
12
11
1011
B
13
12
1100
C
14
13
1101
D
15
14
1110
E
15
1111
F
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