"Computers Take Flight:
 A History of NASA's Pioneering Digital Fly-by-Wire Project"

James E. Tomayko


Computers Take Flight:
A History of NASA's Pioneering Digital Fly-by-Wire Project

James E. Tomayko

This 180-page work, a part of "The NASA History Series," covers the entire history of NASA's F-8 digital flight project, from the first F-8C flight at Edwards Air Force Base in May 1972.  It provides many insights into the nature of flight, and the problems of using advanced digital controls. 

The first chapter devotes many pages to details about the Wright Brothers experiments with flight stability, then discusses experiences with the Curtis JN-5 Jenny during World War I.  There is a section devoted to the German A-4 (V-2) rocket, describing Von Braun's approach to rocket flight control.  The text also covers the work of Avro Canada, designing the advanced Avro CF-105 aircraft--the first to use fly-by-wire (at least with the yaw damper).

There's information about the development of fly-by-wire technology for the Mercury capsule, the Lunar Module of the Apollo spacecraft, and Boeing's work on the X-20 Dyna-Soar project.  There is plenty of physics and engineering mixed with the history, too--in fact, this book provides a good introduction to the entire subject of flight and its control.

An entire chapter is devoted to the origins of NASA's involvement in fly-by-wire research, commencing with the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (in 1961).   The text describes in detail the digital systems used on the F-8C, F-18, F16, F-117, B-2, and F-22, as well as several commercial aircraft (like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A-320).

The author explains the need for, and types of sensors involved in flight, as well as gyroscopic instruments, inertial measurement units, and the role of computers to integrate these devices.  First analog computers are explained (starting with the ENIAC), then the subject turns to digital circuits.  Effectors and actuators are described, along with the development and evolution of software to drive these systems. 

You'll relive the NASA experiences developing reliability for fly-by-wire technology--including early problems with computers, logic, redundancy, software, and flight simulators.   (Punched card technology dominated the early efforts, along with magnetic tape drives.)  You will also see exactly how the new digital equipment was installed, and how the aircraft were modified and converted for fly-by-wire tests.

Here's a great opportunity to meet the men who made technological history.  The story of each of the early test flights is told in vivid detail.  Problems are described, and solutions are investigated.  Flight preparations are explained.  Pilots are interviewed, and their stories told.  Flight logs and chronologies are presented in great detail. 

Then the story continues, telling how the early fly-by-wire concept was adapted to work in the then-new Space Shuttle fleet in 1977.  And, in the last chapters of the book, you learn details about the process of certification of commercial fly-by-wire airliners. 

Examples of the illustrations (greatly reduced in size)

And the book closes with an exceptional seven-page glossary, followed by an eight-page list of technical references for further studies.  There's also a six-page index.

180-pages, 11.0 x 8.5-inches in size, laser-printed (NOT a photocopy!), and quality bound.


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