Fiber-optic avionics connectors show performance advantages for avionics systems

By John McHale

HARRISBURG, Pa.—A steady aerospace and defense market combined with the performance advantages of fiber over copper has designers of optical avionics connectors confident in the short- and long-term future.

Tyco Electronics VITA 66 Fiber Optic Backplane Connector Modules have three module types in development.
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“Recent economic conditions have affected all industries to varying degrees,” says Greg Powers, market development manager of global aerospace, defense & marine at Tyco Electronics in Harrisburg, Pa. “Some segments, such as those funded by civil infrastructure improvement, have fared better than others. The military, while not growing to the extent of previous years, has at least remained stable. Given world events, there has actually been a much higher importance placed on effective and abundant C4ISR (command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). This segment is highly dependent upon bandwidth, for which fiber optics is ideal, and this trend is not slowing.”

Product lines dedicated to avionics connectors are less affected by the economic downturn, says Christophe Masnou, marketing manager, RF interconnect at the Aerospace, Defense, Instrumentation division of Radiall in Chandler, Ariz. These fiber-optic avionics connectors “have replaced existing technologies by offering newer capabilities with cost savings, lower weights, and/or higher bandwidth advantages.”

As data rates elevate, copper-based cable assemblies become more sophisticated and expensive, closing the cost differential between fast copper and fiber-optic solutions, Powers says. “Fiber optics hold significant advantages over fast copper relative to weight reduction, ground/EMI attributes in composite aircraft, and speed over distance. As a result, the primary trend for avionics is the proliferation of proven contact systems into more mainstream applications that were once dominated by copper.”

Power says different standards groups—the VITA Standards Organization, ARINC/AEEC, and SAE—“are setting the stage for accelerated deployment of standard fiber-optic solutions. The key to this is the utilization of fiber-optic termini with aerospace pedigree, namely the Expanded Beam, ARINC 801, and the MT ferrule.

“In addition to input/output and production break connectors, these technologies are now being designed into fiber-optic-based backplane connector modules to facilitate embedded computing applications,” he continues. “This will allow the network architect true end-to-end, fiber-optic connectivity via industry-standard hardware. Concepts such as location independent architecture, where LRUs [line replaceable units] and LRMs [line replacement modules] are dispersed throughout a vehicle while able to interact as if co-located, are coming closer to realization.”

Tyco Electronics produces VITA 66 fiber-optic backplane connector modules—with three module types in development for VITA 66 based on expanded beam, ARINC 801, and MT, Powers says. Tyco Electronics’ Tactical Expanded Beam Connectors—M83526/20 and /21—are rugged fiber-optic connectors for multimode and single-mode connectors for adverse environments, he adds.

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Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2015
Volume 26, Issue 2

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