I am forwarding a very interesting E-mail from a friend who is an aircraft designer. With all the recent posts about FADEC systems going into SR2x airplanes, Eric’s E-mail is worth a read.
I just hit the TCM web site and something puzzles me about this FADEC system. It says there are three ECU (engine control units) each of them running two opposed cylinders. In the sense that a computer can fail and take two of the six cylinders out, this is not a redundant system. Anyone whose had a dead cylinder on a 550 can attest that they are not very smooth engines when cylinders drop out. A 550 on four cylinders would be a rough beastie indeed…
Worse, if it takes all three computers to run the engine correctly, then we have LESS reliability than if it was running on only one computer (of the same, single reliability level) for all cylinders. This little redundancy realization dates back to the first twin engine aircraft. Early twins were too heavy to stay in the air on one engine, so Ryan chose to build a single for Lindberg’s flight thereby cutting the odds of an engine failure induced flight loss in half. If one computer has an IFSR of 0.01% (one in-flight failure in 1,000 hours), then the triple computer TCM set up would have a overall failure rate more than three times as high, or 0.03% (0.01% cubed). To achieve 0.01%, three computers would need individual IFSR ratings of 0.003%.
Why can’t one computer run the full set of six upper spark plugs and a second computer do the same for the lower set? In this fashion, our theoretical 0.01% computers now combine for a 0.0001% IFSR engine control rating. If one computer fails, it’s the same as a mag failure: a drop in performance and efficiency, but at least nothing is going to shake itself to pieces!
Obviously, only one computer can run the single fuel injector set at a time. Any variation in mixture commands from two computers hooked to the same injector set would combine to richen mixture by increasing fuel injector pulse time. Zehrbach runs their EFI through a selector for computer A vs. B; simple, effective, and above all, redundant. Matt Hapgood has this set-up. Both this and the fully dual redundant ignition from two separate drives to two separate sets of plugs covering ALL cylinders with each channel are what we have come to expect. We are comfortable with this and nothing less when our lives hang in the night-IFR-over-water-or-mountains balance. Why did TCM put so much money and time into what is essentially a non-redundant system? Personally, I’ll take dual mags and mech injection over non redundant electronics. I’ll take truly redundant, modern electronics over both.
Lycoming seems to have gone the other way and added electronic sensing and actuation to the mechanical systems already present. From what I read on their web site, they keep one mag and mechanical fuel injection so that if the computer dies, you just push the controls like before. They claim this is better than “FADEC”.
I’m curious what everyone thinks of all this. We know that airliners and cars have been running reliable electronic engine controls with no mechanical backup for decades. Fly-by-wire and the electrical systems that power it are so reliable and redundant that we have passenger airliners that have no mechanical controls whatsoever that are nearing retirement! (the earliest A320’s are more than half way through their life-cycle)
Many of us (I won’t speak for everyone here…) want FADEC on our engines. But what IS it? It seems that the definitions of “FADEC”, “redundancy”, “aircraft grade”, etc. vary depending on who you’re talking to. I want dual redundancy starting at separate engine accessory drives to fully separate dual electrical systems and no crossing until it gets back to the fuel injectors; NO SIGNIFICANT DEGREDATION of performance if one channel fails. A step up from this would be two separate types of computers and sensors so that no specific part or software problem could take down both systems (Zehrbach offers magnetic and optical pickups for a. retentive people like me who want this level of separation in A vs. B engine controls). The only thing more redundant would be two engines, but only if we can fly unhinderred on one. That’s our definition. What does everyone here think of when we say “FADEC” and “redundancy”?
I’ll respect any differing opinions, I’m just curious since the engine companies don’t seem to agree with what I thought were accepted standards.