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Software-Controlled Helicopter Passes First Test

Eurocopter says its new military helicopter, which uses software and electronic wires to control flight, has made its first successful flight.
Eurocopter says its NH90, a new European military helicopter, has completed its first successful flight. The helicopter is built with Goodrich Corp.'s Actuation Systems that feature "fly-by-wire" controls to operate the copter's flight based on software and electronic wires rather than mechanical moving parts.

Companies like Boeing Co. use this technology in their commercial and military aircraft designs. The technology also is migrating to carmakers as well. For example, General Motors Corp. uses a similar technology, throttle-by-wire, to control a car's throttle system and is moving toward integrating it into other functions to steer and drive the car. This technology is known as drive-by-wire.

Fly-by-wire technology has advantages. On helicopters and planes, it enables the pilot to maneuver the aircraft more easily. It also lets manufactures significantly reduce the aircraft's weight because mechanical parts are simplified and there are fewer hydraulic blocks. And for the first time on a helicopter, there are no mechanical links between the pilot controls and the main and tail rotor actuators, Eurocopter says.

The flight controls were designed and developed by Goodrich Actuation Systems and Liebherr Aerospace, a prime contractor to Eurocopter for this system. The NH90 helicopter is scheduled for delivery later this year, with roughly 302 being built by 2010. European armed forces have already ordered 340 of the copters.

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