Geek Trivia: Shuffling the (flight) deck

What modern conventional aircraft's avionics are the basis for the flight control systems in the Space Shuttle-replacing Project Constellation space vehicles -- the Orion capsule and the Altair lander?

What modern conventional aircraft's avionics are the basis for the flight control systems in the Space Shuttle-replacing Project Constellation space vehicles -- the Orion capsule and the Altair lander?

The avionics suite from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be ported to the Orion and Altair spacecraft, though don't take that to mean that a 787 pilot will be qualified to fly either of these yet-to-be-built space vehicles.

The Orion and the Altair will be the first NASA capsules with a so-called glass cockpit, which is aviation slang for an entirely electronic instrument system, with no analog readouts or gauges on the flight deck. These digital instruments from the 787 -- both the general hardware and software -- will be adapted to the Orion and the Altair, presumably making the controls of either craft look more like the bridge of the starship Enterprise-D, rather than the somewhat more analog original Space Shuttle design.

(To be fair, the Space Shuttles were eventually retrofitted with glass cockpit systems starting in 2000. Atlantis was the first Space Shuttle to fly with the system, as it did for STS-101. Only Challenger, which was destroyed in 1986, never received the upgrade.)

The advantage of a glass cockpit is, in large part, one of simplification. Rather than requiring multiple redundant mechanical gauges, a computer display-based avionics system can access multiple redundant instruments with a single readout. Moreover, the 787 avionics suite was chosen in part because it was dual-fault tolerant, meaning that three versions on any instrument would have to fail before the pilot was deprived of flight data.

The 787's electronics systems aren't without critics, of course, particularly since that aircraft's in-flight passenger network (which would provide travelers with airborne Internet access) is not physically separate from the glass cockpit systems. Thus, a passenger could hypothetically hack the network and assume control of the 787 from the passenger cabin. Presumably, this will not be a problem for the Orion flight crews.

That not just some aeronautically advantageous adaptation; it's a flight deck fancifying flash of futuristic Geek Trivia.

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