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December 2005 edition

Systems Engineering for Commercial Aircraft

By Scott Jackson

Publisher Ashgate Publishing Ltd

Price £59.95

Reviewed by Brian Whitby

The intention of this book is to provide the reader with an overview of the systems engineering process. Speaking very broadly, the basic point of this process is to define the functions and requirements of any given system so comprehensively that the actual design (or 'synthesis', as Jackson refers to it) phase of the development process can be completed relatively easily. The message of systems engineering is clear. "Use as much care and rigour as you can at the start of the development process. This will help you get your design right first time, and thereby save you time and money in the long run." ‘Right first time' must, of course, be the aim of all airframers. We all know the huge financial risk any company takes on every time it sets about designing a new aircraft, or even a major modification to an existing one. Every aerospace organisation has its own cautionary tales of what happens when designs turn out not quite right first time. And what's the main reason for a system, or an aircraft, not quite working right? Not being completely sure what it was supposed to do in the first place, of course.

After a short preamble, Jackson takes us rapidly through the key steps in the systems engineering concept of aircraft development, starting with top-down functional analysis and requirement definition. He has several very valid points to make on differing requirement types; performance requirements (which he divides into emitted and delivery), interfaces, constraints and speciality requirements. But is it really the case that these should be, wherever possible, quantitative? Jackson concludes that only then are they fully verifiable. But an aircraft's users judge many aspects of its performance qualitatively.

After the requirements definition come trade-offs, synthesis, then certification and verification. Overseeing the whole are systems engineering management and control processes, covered in the final and longest of the book's 12 chapters.

I would also take issue with the book's assertions that aircraft electrical systems are AC-based and that airframe structures are designed to fail-safe principles. This is not mere nit-picking; it begs the question whether the systems engineering approach described in this book is as relevant to smaller aircraft as to the large transport aircraft the author is clearly more familiar with.

It is also unclear for whom the book is intended. Readers with little or no experience in the industry will struggle with many of the concepts discussed here and will search the text in vain for examples that could make things clearer, in particular relating to the key quality function deployment method of evaluating possible trade-offs. Experienced professionals, on the other hand, will use the book more as a checklist (indeed, it is often written as such) to guide them along a path they in principle know well but in practice often depart from in an ill-judged search for short cuts. In this case, perhaps the book’s contents could have been condensed into a single, immensely useful wallchart.

Brian Whitby is chief engineer for trainer aircraft at Pilatus Aircraft Company

To receive a 15% discount, please quote reference code

G05CF when placing your order to the contact details below or click here:

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Discount valid until 31st December 2005

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