Avionics: The Heart of Aerospace Technology
The avionic system has progressed from basic navigation and display systems to what we see now in modern aircrafts. The future of avionics will be ground-breaking
The name ‘avionics’ blends the words ‘aviation’ and ‘electronics’. Any aircraft would be incomplete without its avionics. From the turn of the 20th century, avionics systems have been continuously developing to perform combat missions more safely and effectively. Earlier aircrafts were simpler, consisting of basic instruments like airspeed indicators, altimeters etc. which gave the pilots basic information. Due to the introduction of new technologies, the recent aircrafts are equipped with advanced avionics systems, which give pilots extensive details along with an increased level of safety and efficiency in aviation.
The first advancement occurred in radio navigation systems in the 1930s and 1940s, which allowed pilots of both fighter and commercial aircraft to use radio signals for navigation. Eventually, when the Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) Omnidirectional Range (VOR) were developed, navigation became considerably more precise and dependable, enabling pilots to fly in inclement weather and navigate precisely over great distances. Compared to prior navigation systems, which only used visual cues, this was a huge breakthrough.
We welcomed the invention of radar technology in the 1950s. This allowed pilots to observe other aircraft and the surrounding landscape in real time. Enabling pilots to prevent crashes and manoeuvre around weather systems was the most important advancement needed to significantly enhance safety. The development of Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), which use gyroscopes and accelerometers to sense changes in the motion of the aircraft and compute its location in three dimensions, began in the 1960s. INS made it feasible for pilots to correctly navigate without relying on outside signals.
Now that we have sophisticated navigational tools and radar technology, the next stage was to enhance our display system. In order to replace conventional analogue instruments with digital displays, the first electronic flight displays were introduced to the globe in the 1970s. This made it simpler for pilots to read and comprehend flight data. Its upgraded digital display made it possible to combine several systems into one display. The first flight management systems were created in the 1980s, enabling pilots to plan and carry out missions more successfully while using less fuel and increasing safety.
Global Positioning System (GPS) technology changed the navigation system entirely in the 1990s and 2000s. With the use of GPS, pilots could locate themselves with increased accuracy and navigate more effectively, cutting down on flying time and fuel use. Newer technology including Synthetic Vision Systems (SVS) and Heads-Up Displays (HUDs), which gave pilots even more detailed information and better situational awareness, were also introduced in the 2000s.
Evolution of avionics system is not just limited to aircraft avionics. When we look into the Unmanned Aerial System, we see a safer, cost-effective system that solely relies on its advanced avionics technology. The UAVs use different sensors, processors etc. for an efficient autonomous flight.
Now, when we talk about the spacecraft avionics system, we see the art of miniaturization of avionics system. Satellites and launch vehicles need light weight and compact electronic system that can withstand the harsh space habitat. Also, a highly accurate spacecraft avionics system is needed to precisely track the trajectory and position, which means the navigation system of spacecraft should be highly precise.
However, every significant innovation has a fault, and in this case, that vulnerability is cybersecurity. There will be less hazards if these systems are continuously monitored. Yet as AI advances, the avionics system will eventually be safe from cyberattacks.
The avionic system has progressed from basic navigation and display systems to what we see now in modern aircrafts. The future of avionics will be ground-breaking.
Author of the blog Eimy Watson is a student of B.Tech. Aerospace (Avionics) Engineering (2020-24), and co-author Dr. Sudhir Kumar Chaturvedi is Associate Professor, UPES School of Engineering.