Semiconductors are an important element of countless advanced electronic assemblies, coming in the form of a material that has an electrical conductivity value between a conductor and an insulator. The resistance of semiconductors may vary based on their design and environmental conditions; values often come down to the amount of impurities present in their crystal structure or the current temperature of the component itself. There are many common types of semiconductors that one may take advantage of for their application, and popular materials include silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and others. In this blog, we will discuss how semiconductors have benefited modern aircraft, allowing you to better understand their use and importance in varying settings.
As aircraft have become more increasingly advanced with powerful electronics and systems aiding the pilot, semiconductors have become an essential aspect of modern design. Aircraft are often limited in the amount of weight they can take on for their design, ensuring optimal aerodynamic properties and fuel efficiency. Before integrated circuits began being used in aircraft, the electrification process was stalled as computers began growing larger and heavier. Once integrated circuits dropped in price, the power, size, and cost of computerized systems balanced out enough to become optimal for aviation use.
Integrated circuits come in the form of electronic circuits that are placed on a flat piece of semiconductor material, and they operate with bolstered performance over older discrete electronic components while being smaller and less expensive. Whether one is using a device such as a computer, appliance, or other such system, one is relying on integrated circuits. Integrated circuits used in aircraft come in many forms, one of the most common being those used for flight control computers.
The flight control computer of a modern aircraft is its core or brain, serving for the management of flight controls and control surfaces. With a flight control computer, a pilot is provided finer control and stability, bolstering their ability to maintain a safe operation while attending to other various important matters. In order for a flight control computer to optimally manage all flight controls of the aircraft, it depends on highly reliable processor boards with ample performance. With the flight control computer, primary flight control surfaces are actuated while finer control is provided for increased stability.
While aircraft semiconductor technology has continued to advance over the years since its original implementation, modern systems do not always use the most state-of-the-art semiconductors for their design. While advanced semiconductors often present higher performance levels, they are not always the most advantageous in certain locations. In some instances, reliability and resilience are the most important characteristics that an aircraft semiconductor can have, ensuring long service lives and airworthiness. If one is designing an aircraft and chooses to use older semiconductors for a certain application, it is important that they have enough processing power to tackle any task that they will normally handle. Through testing, engineers should be able to determine the right processing power for the flight computer to narrow down the best semiconductor.
While silicone is the most common material for constructing the types of semiconductors found in aircraft, gallium is often used for other equipment like radar systems. Additionally, engineers are continuing to find new ways in which semiconductors can be placed on a wafer in an attempt to further downsize packages for the benefit of the aircraft. As new designs come about, improved semiconductors may allow for new aircraft designs that increase fuel efficiency, reliability, safety, and much more.
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