A digital fly-by-wire flight control system is similar to its analog counterpart. However, the signal processing is done by digital computers and the pilot literally can "fly-via-computer". This also increases the flexibility of the flight control system, since the digital computers can receive input from any aircraft sensor (such as the altimeters and the pitot tubes). This also increases the electronic stability, because the system is less dependent on the values of critical electrical components in an analog controller.
The computers sense position and force inputs from pilot controls and aircraft sensors. They solve differential equations to determine the appropriate command signals that move the flight controls to execute the intentions of the pilot.
The programming of the digital computers enable flight envelope protection. In this aircraft designers precisely tailor an aircraft's handling characteristics, to stay within the overall limits of what is possible given the aerodynamics and structure of the aircraft. For example, the computer in flight envelope protection mode can try to prevent the aircraft from being handled dangerously by preventing pilots from exceeding preset limits on the aircraft's flight-control envelope, such as those that prevent stalls and spins, and which limit airspeeds and g forces on the airplane. Software can also be included that stabilize the flight-control inputs to avoid pilot-induced oscillations.
Since the flight-control computers continuously "fly" the aircraft, pilot's workloads can be reduced. Also, in military and naval applications, it is now possible to fly military aircraft that have relaxed stability. The primary benefit for such aircraft is more maneuverability during combat and training flights, and the so-called "carefree handling" because stalling, spinning and other undesirable performances are prevented automatically by the computers.
Digital flight control systems enable inherently unstable combat aircraft, such as the F-117 Nighthawk and the B-2 Spirit flying wing to fly in usable and safe manners.
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