AskDefine | Define avionics

Dictionary Definition

avionics n : science and technology of electronic systems and devices for aeronautics and astronautics; "avionics has become even more important with the development of the space program"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The science and technology of the development and use of electrical and electronic devices in aviation.
  2. The devices used in avionics.

Usage notes

  • Avionics is used with a singular verb in the sense of the science and in with a plural verb in the sense of the devices used in this science.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Avionics is short for "aviation electronics". It comprises electronic systems for use on aircraft, artificial satellites and spacecraft, comprising communications, navigation and the display and management of multiple systems. It also includes the hundreds of systems that are fitted to aircraft to meet individual roles, these can be as simple as a search light for a police helicopter or as complicated as the tactical system for an Airborne Early Warning platform.


The term avionics was not in general use until the early 1970s. Up to this point instruments, radios, radar, fuel systems, engine controls and radio navigation aids had formed individual (and often mechanical) systems.
In the 1970s, avionics was born, driven by military need rather than civil airliner development. Military aircraft had become flying sensor platforms, and making large amounts of electronic equipment work together had become the new challenge. Today, avionics as used in military aircraft almost always forms the biggest part of any development budget. Aircraft like the F-15E and the now retired F-14 have roughly 80 percent of their budget spent on avionics. Most modern helicopters now have budget splits of 60/40 in favour of avionics. (F-22?)
The civilian market has also seen a growth in cost of avionics. Flight control systems (fly-by-wire) and new navigation needs brought on by tighter airspaces, have pushed up development costs. The major change has been the recent boom in consumer flying. As more people begin to use planes as their primary method of transportation, more elaborate methods of controlling aircraft safely in these high restrictive airspaces have been invented.

Main categories

Aircraft avionics

The cockpit of an aircraft is a major location for avionic equipment, including control, monitoring, communication, navigation, weather, and anti-collision systems. The majority of aircraft drive their avionics using 14 or 28 volt DC electrical systems; however, large, more sophisticated aircraft (such as airliners or military combat aircraft) have AC systems operating at 400 Hz, rather than the more common 50 and 60 Hz of North American home electrical devices. There are several major vendors of flight avionics, including Honeywell (which now owns Bendix/King), Thales Group, Garmin, Avidyne Corporation, and Narco Avionics.


Communications connect the flight deck to the ground, and the flight deck to the passengers. On board communications are provided by public address systems and aircraft intercoms.
The VHF aviation communication system works on the Airband of 118.000 MHz to 136.975 MHz. Each channel is spaced from the adjacent by 8.33 kHz. Amplitude Modulation (AM) is used. The conversation is performed by simplex mode. Aircraft communication can also take place using HF (especially for trans-oceanic flights) or satellite communication.


Navigation is the determination of position and direction on or above the surface of the Earth. Avionics can use satellite-based systems (such as GPS), ground-based systems (such as VORs), or a combination of the two (such as WAAS). Older avionics required a pilot or navigator to plot the intersection of signals on a paper map to determine an aircraft's location; modern systems calculate the position automatically and display it to the flight crew on moving map displays.


Glass cockpits started to come into being with the G-IV in 1985. Display systems display sensor data that allows the aircraft to fly safely. Much information that used to be displayed using mechanical gauges appears on electronic displays in newer aircraft.

Aircraft flight control systems

Aeroplanes and helicopters have means of automatically controlling flight. They reduce pilot workload at important times (like on landing, or in the hover), and they make these actions safer by 'removing' pilot error. The first simple auto-pilots were used to control heading and altitude and had limited authority on things like thrust and flight control surfaces. In helicopters, auto stabilisation was used in a similar way. The old systems were electromechanical in nature until very recently.
The advent of fly by wire and electro actuated flight surfaces (rather than the traditional hydraulic) has increased safety. As with displays and instruments, critical devices which were electro-mechanical had a finite life. With safety critical systems, the software is very strictly tested.

Collision-avoidance systems

To supplement air traffic control, most large transport aircraft and many smaller ones use a TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System), which can detect the location of nearby aircraft, and provide instructions for avoiding a midair collision. Smaller aircraft may use simpler traffic alerting systems such as TPAS, which are passive (they do not actively interrogate the transponders of other aircraft) and do not provide advisories for conflict resolution.
To help avoid collision with terrain, (CFIT) aircraft use systems such as ground-proximity warning systems (GPWS), radar altimeter being the key element in GPWS. One of the major weaknesses of (GPWS) is the lack of "look-ahead" information as it only provides altitude above terrain "look-down". In order to overcome such weakness, modern aircraft use the Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS).

Weather systems

Weather systems such as weather radar (typically Arinc 708 on commercial aircraft) and lightning detectors are important for aircraft flying at night or in Instrument meteorological conditions, where it is not possible for pilots to see the weather ahead. Heavy precipitation (as sensed by radar) or severe turbulence (as sensed by lightning activity) are both indications of strong convective activity and severe turbulence, and weather systems allow pilots to deviate around these areas.
Lightning detectors like the Stormscope or Strikefinder have become inexpensive enough that they are practical for light aircraft. In addition to radar and lightning detection, observations and extended radar pictures (such as NEXRAD) are now available through satellite data connections, allowing pilots to see weather conditions far beyond the range of their own in-flight systems. Modern displays allow weather information to be integrated with moving maps, terrain, traffic, etc. onto a single screen, greatly simplifying navigation.

Aircraft management Systems

There has been a progression towards centralized control of the multiple complex systems fitted to aircraft, including engine monitoring and management. Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) are integrated with aircraft management computers to allow maintainers early warnings of parts that will need replacement.

Mission or tactical avionics

Military aircraft have been designed either to deliver a weapon or to be the eyes and ears of other weapon systems. The vast array of sensors available to the military is used for whatever tactical means required. As with aircraft management, the bigger sensor platforms (like the E-3D, JSTARS, ASTOR, Nimrod MRA4, Merlin HM Mk 1) have mission management computers.
Police and EMS aircraft also carry sophisticated tactical sensors.

Military communications

While aircraft communications provide the backbone for safe flight, the tactical systems are designed to withstand the rigours of the battle field. UHF, VHF Tactical (30-88 MHz) and SatCom systems combined with ECCM methods, and cryptography secure the communications. Data links like Link 11, 16, 22 and BOWMAN, JTRS and even TETRA provide the means of transmitting data (such as images, targeting information etc.).


Airborne radar was one of the first tactical sensors. The benefit of altitude providing range has meant a significant focus on airborne radar technologies. Radars include Airborne Early Warning (AEW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and even Weather radar (Arinc 708) and ground tracking/proximity radar.
The military uses radar in fast jets to help pilots fly at low levels. While the civil market has had weather radar for a while, there are strict rules about using it to navigate the aircraft.


Dipping sonar fitted to a range of military helicopters allows the helicopter to protect shipping assets from submarines or surface threats. Maritime support aircraft can drop active and passive sonar devices (Sonobuoys) and these are also used to determine the location of hostile submarines.


Electro-optic systems include Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), and Passive Infrared Devices (PIDS). These are all used to provide imagery to crews. This imagery is used for everything from Search and Rescue through to acquiring better resolution on a target.


Electronic support measures and defensive aids are used extensively to gather information about threats or possible threats. They can be used to launch devices (in some cases automatically) to counter direct threats against the aircraft. They are also used to determine the state of a threat and identify it.

Aircraft Networks

The avionics systems in military, commercial and advanced models of civilian aircraft are interconnected using an avionics databus. Common avionics databus protocols, with their primary application, include:

Police and Air Ambulance

Police and EMS aircraft (mostly helicopters) are now a significant market. Military aircraft are often now built with a role available to assist in civil disobedience. Police helicopters are almost always fitted with video/FLIR systems to allow them to track suspects. They can also be fitted with searchlights and loudspeakers.
EMS and police helicopters will be required to fly in unpleasant conditions, this may require more aircraft sensors, some of which were until recently considered purely for military aircraft.


External links

avionics in Czech: Avionika
avionics in Danish: Luftfartselektronik
avionics in German: Avionik
avionics in Spanish: Aviónica
avionics in French: Avionique
avionics in Irish: Eitleonaic
avionics in Galician: Aviónica
avionics in Korean: 항공전자
avionics in Indonesian: Avionik
avionics in Italian: Avionica
avionics in Hebrew: אוויוניקה
avionics in Hungarian: Avionika
avionics in Dutch: Avionica
avionics in Japanese: アビオニクス
avionics in Norwegian: Avionikk
avionics in Polish: Awionika
avionics in Portuguese: Aviónica
avionics in Russian: Авионика
avionics in Slovak: Avionika
avionics in Finnish: Avioniikka
avionics in Swedish: Avionik
avionics in Chinese: 航空电子
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