I'm an electrical engineer and I'm interested in civil aviation, more specifically in fly-by-wire planes like the Airbus A320, Boeing 777 and others. But I fell in love with the Airbus A320 as it is the first civil fly-by-wire plane. I read a lot of its flight computers (FAC, SEC, ELAC), I saw its photos. But I want to have a look at their internal parts.

Does someone have photos of these internal parts? I want to have a look at those computer's internal boards. At last, I would appreciate any deep technical overview of how they work.


This is an indirect answer at best, but I think you'll get something good out of it.

I would definitely recommend you have look at CuriousMarc's series on YouTube where he and a couple other SMEs restore an original Apollo Guidance Computer to working order. You might think "that's not civil aviation, why?", but the AGC was the first digital fly-by-wire system. It was revolutionary both in terms of it's use of silicon integrated circuits and it's effects on software engineering. the AGC was also the basis for the first fly-by-wire systems installed on aircraft for atmospheric flight.

The other reason I'd recommend this is because it has all of the electrical cutting and shutting that you seem to be expecting. They spend a lot of time looking over original schematics and performing diagnostics with Marc's extensive personal collection of equipment in order to find individual failed circuits which require repair. They also had to find ways to interface the computer and emulate missing components, which involved a lot of bespoke design.

I'll be honest, I think there is a possibility you might find modern computers quite boring in comparison if your interest is limited to the circuits and does not include the software (not easy to tell from the wording of the question). This is for two reasons:

  • The AGC represents a time where the atomic components of the digital computer could still be seen with the eyes and cut/soldered out by hand. That is almost certainly not the case with modern computers, and I would also expect that the vast majority of people who work with the aircraft directly have never cracked open one of the computers for this reason. They are sealed (maybe even tamper-proofed), and are simply replaced as a unit and shipped back to the OEM when any invasive work is required.
  • A cursory search informed me that the original A320 computers actually used derivatives of the Intel 8086. If you're interested in early x86 micro-architecture (especially in fault-tolerant configurations), this is interesting. But, if you're expecting to open the computer and find the flight control laws to be implemented in hardware, you'll be a bit disappointed.
  • $\begingroup$ The big sea change in FBW has been the move of the analog-to-digital conversion of signals from inside the controller to out near or on the actuator. One of the big downfalls of analog FBW was the need to send sensitive analog low-voltage signals down long wire runs with numerous connectors, with the need to account for voltage drops in calibrations of signals. Anything that affects the line resistance, like bad connector pins, plays havoc with the system. Doing the digital conversion on-wing means the connection just has to be good enough for the signal to get there as an on-off. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jan 21 '20 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your answers! $\endgroup$
    – mrhakerfox
    Jan 22 '20 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ user44968, you gave me very interesting paper to read! What a pity that those who work with aircraft have never opened any computer. But the reason is very well understandable. $\endgroup$
    – mrhakerfox
    Jan 22 '20 at 0:17

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