On May 5, 2017, the long-awaited C919 large passenger aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight, opening a new chapter for the development of China’s civil aircraft industry. As the only domestic Tier 1 supplier for complete system to C919 project, Shanghai Aviation Electric Co., Ltd affiliated to Aviation Industry Corporation of China (referred to as AVIC SAE or SAE) undertook the independent development tasks for two work packages of control panel assemblies & dimmer control system (CPAs&DCS) and integrated circuit breaker panel (ICBP) to C919 large passenger aircraft. For nine years, gathering strength, conducting independent innovation, tackling difficulties, and struggling ahead, SAE, under the unexpected circumstance that its foreign partner dropped out midway, resolutely undertook the important task alone and boldly shouldered the glorious historic mission of independent development to spare no effort to guarantee the development process of C919 project; it gradually explored a unique development path of “civil-military integration and independent innovation” in the field of complex on-board systems for civil aircraft, thus composing a resounding triumphant song of “serving country with aviation development and chasing dreams in blue sky”.
By Seizing the Opportunity, the “Time-Honored State-Owned Enterprise” Rejuvenates Itself
In the early stage to bid for C919 project, as the representative for aviation lighting and cockpit control panel system at home, SAE partnered with a peer company from the United States and eventually won the bidding. However, 3 years after the bid winning, the US partner suddenly decided to drop out of the project in March 2013; both Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and SAE were taken aback by this unexpected change and were confronted with a dilemma; after all, previously there was no any precedent that the onboard system-level product of China had ever entered into the international mainstream civil aviation market. Adhering to the perception that the aviation industry was an inborn industry of civil-military integration, mobilizing a from-top-to-bottom cooperative engagement, SAE was actively devoted to exploring the capacity building for system-level supplier of civil aircraft and boldly implemented an international diversified talent introduction strategy, thus striving to blaze a new trail for China’s airborne industry to realize the capacity building for system supplier of civil aircraft. Hard work paid off: in April 2014, SAE eventually undertook independently the work package for development of CPAs&DCS to C919 large passenger aircraft, becoming the only domestic Tier 1 supplier for provision of complete system to C919 project among the 36 system suppliers.
Rise to the Challenge to Be the “Pacesetter” of C919 Project
Someone said that C919 CPAs&DCS project was a tough nut left by world’s civil aircraft industry for SAE to crack. As a man-machine interaction interface for the pilot to conduct flight control, CPAs&DCS work package is almost cross-linked with every single aircraft system and entails a complex system that has extremely high requirements on safety and comfort of the flight environment and reliability of the man-machine ergonomics; globally, any small design error of the system has ever resulted in a number of catastrophic events.
In early 2013, when the foreign supplier dropped out halfway, the design patent to the system architecture of C919 CPAs&DCS had been mastered by the foreign partner; therefore, how to avoid the risk of patent infringement became a hot potato for SAE to tackle. Rising to the challenge, giving full play to the spirits of teamwork, tenacious struggle, pragmatism and innovation, SAE blazed a new trail to creatively put forward the design of distributed dimming control based on digital CAN bus and separate dual-channel architecture, thus guaranteeing reliability and security of the switching signal transmission and avoiding the risking of patent infringement. As the pacesetter for the large passenger aircraft project, in the hard times of more than 6 months for safety testing to maiden flight of C919, the civil aircraft team of SAE conducted tenacious struggle and made selfless dedication; when the Company was in the greatest need of talents, they went far away from home and buried themselves in the laboratory for more than two months; they worked around the clock and some of them even surrendered their vacation time to hold fast to the testing site of COMAC and the frontline of the various laboratories throughout the country; they tackled the technical problems one after another and eliminated the product defects one by one to guarantee success of the C919 aircraft-level integration test and a series of taxiing tests; and till the successful maiden flight of C919, SAE was presented as a shining “name card” of being a domestic Tier 1 system supplier in the field of civil aircraft.
With Triumphant News Kept Pouring in, SAE Defends Its Mission
The hard work of SAE’s talents finally paid off with gratifying fruit. Triumphant news on CPAs&DCS and ICBP aircraft-level integration test, safety test of maiden flight, system integration, and joint test for C919 project kept pouring in; SAE broke through bottlenecks in many fields of technology and achieved fruitful results.
On June 10, 2010, SAE won the bid for CPAs&DCS work package of C919 aircraft;
In early March 2013, SAE started undertaking the development tasks alone for C919 CPAs&DCS;
On April 4, 2014, signing a master contract of independent development with COMAC, SAE became the only domestic Tier 1 supplier of complete system to C919 aircraft;
On August 18, 2014, the first batch of blue-marked parts for C919 CPAs&DCS was officially delivered to COMAC;
On September 17, 2015, the first batch of red-marked parts for C919 CPAs&DCS and ICBP was proved qualified by and granted with an airworthiness tag by CAAC;
May 30, 2016, the parts of CPAs&DCS and ICBP for first flight of C919 Aircraft 101 were officially delivered to COMAC;
On May 5, 2017, C919 aircraft completed its maiden flight successfully.
In the aspects of development process and system for civil aircraft, SAE has achieved more exploits and accomplishments:
It built a development process system for complex airborne system of civil aircraft conforming to international standards, which complied with the demand management process system of SAE ARP 4754A, the system security assessment method of SAE ARP 4761, and the B-level software development process and system of DO-178B;
Within less than 3 years, it completed the environmental test for airborne system in line with DO-160G, which, for the industry, was the most stringent subject involving most complicated requirements; tackling multiple EMI technological difficulties of the CPAs&DCS system, it fully verified the modular design method for hardware and generated dozens of classic circuits;
It realized the top-down design for civil aircraft system in real sense for the first time;
It carried out the development for B-level airborne software for the first time in accordance with the requirements of DO-178B process and passed the SOI-1 review by CAAC in one time, thus making its development capacity for airborne software reach the international advanced level;
It creatively established a set of advanced system integration verification platform in the industry, which realized intellectualization and automation for system integration verification and improved the testing efficiency for system integration by more than 60%;
Establishing for the first time a global-oriented supply chain system of civil aircraft in line with international airworthiness standards, it developed a safe, economical, reliable, effective and healthy ecological supply chain of full life cycle, laying a solid foundation for establishment of a supply chain system geared to the global;
Exploring a development path of “civil-military integration and independent innovation” for complex airborne systems, SAE won the honorary title of silver award for outstanding supplier of COMAC in 2014 and 2015 successively, setting a benchmark effect in the industry and giving a perfect answer.