[Avionics Today 12-22-2014] GE Aviation’s Common Core System (CCS) will lay the avionics computing groundwork for Boeing’s 777X, the companies announced early last week. With production set to begin in 2017 and initial deliveries planned for 2020, the 777X CCS design is still in development, but will be closely related to the system GE developed for Boeing’s 787 aircraft, the company reports.
Computer rendering of the Boeing 777X. Photo: Boeing.
GE provides both the CCS, which hosts the aircraft’s avionics and utilities functions, as well as the network that allows for the data exchange throughout the system. The network is the ARINC 664 high integrity Ethernet that helps to connect the sensors, actuators and systems onboard the aircraft.
“The intent of the system was to provide a centralized computing function and also to provide the network for the aircraft,” GE Aviation Vice President and General Manager of the North American avionics division George Kiefer told Avionics Magazine. “Typically in the past what would happen is that Boeing would go off and they would work with a supplier and that supplier provide a box and that box would have some computing functions, that might be a flight management function, it might be a display function, it might handle electrical power management, utilities such as managing the waste water system on the aircraft, etcetera. But the common core system provides a bank of processors within this computing element and now you can go off and separately procure all of those software applications to put onto that computing function.”
The CCS system also saves weight and, therefore, fuel costs, by simplifying the network of systems on the aircraft from the more disjointed and traditional federated system and converting much of the information into a digital signal. The digital signal allows more information to pass through less wiring, reducing weight by hundreds of pounds, according to GE.
“What the common core system does is it goes ahead and consolidates all of that computing into a couple of boxes, and using the network portion of what we provide it allows you to put data concentrators very near the sensors and effectors on the airplane,” said Kiefer. “Then, they have all the wiring back and forth between all these different sensors and that gets coordinated into a digital signal that gets sent across the bus to the main computing system and what you end up with is rather than a whole bunch of wires that run throughout the whole aircraft, all that information gets converted to a digital signal and gets run through just a couple of wires as opposed to wires running the length of the aircraft.”
Cost savings also come from the open architecture design of the system, as it allows the operator to change or upgrade software applications as they see fit without requiring the developer to retest or recertify the entire system. By allowing Boeing to easily incorporate new technology from different suppliers, the CCS on the 787 and 777X are indicative of the airframe manufacturer’s desire to continue to deploy user-friendly open architecture designs on future aircraft.
“On the 787, just to put the numbers out there, there is in excess of 50 different software applications from [close to] 20 different suppliers. And that’s where Boeing actually goes out and selects those, Boeing integrates those, if Boeing wants to go off and change some of the functions to add some capability or to make some reliability improvements or whatever it might be, they can go and do that directly with the supplier of that software, they don’t have to come back to GE to do that integration and testing and so it truly is an open architecture system,” said Kiefer. “And the military is pursuing the [open architecture] space as well. It is the way to go in the future.”
Open architecture avionics packages and a focus on size, weight and power will continue to be essential for next generation airframe families, such as the 787, 777X and the A350 XWB recently introduced by Airbus. Still, Kiefer promises that as far as technology has come to allow for these system advances, it will keep evolving to open channels to lighter, faster and more consolidated equipment.
“As technology evolves, as processors become more powerful, as memory becomes more dense, you’re able to put more functionality into a small computing function,” said Kiefer. “And on aircraft size, weight and power are critical elements.”
Since first introducing the 777X at the 2013 Dubai Airshow, Boeing has received 300 orders for the aircraft from six different customers; ANA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa and Qatar.