A cargo plane taking off from a rural landing strip

XFIA Server

Client: Wingspeed
  • Technology Development
  • System Architecture
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Software Engineering
  • Design for Manufacturing
  • Regulatory Compliance

An aircraft server built to withstand extreme environmental conditions.

The FAA was evolving maintenance, repair, and overhaul regulations by allowing certain system inspections to be determined by equipment performance data, not just hours of operation. Wingspeed saw this as an opportunity to provide the first hardware that could collect this data.

When Wingspeed approached us, no other firm in the aviation industry had successfully created a server that would pass the FAA DO-160 hardware test for fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Despite having no prior experience in the aviation industry, we were confident we would be able to meet the challenge.

Our process started with a thorough review of the conditions the server would be subjected to including power failure, impact, lightning strikes, explosive decompression, temperature swings, humidity, and pressure. The exhaustive list of all regulations was bound in an inches-thick manual, which we each read cover to cover several times to ensure we completely understood the requirements, tests, and thresholds we had to design to.

After this extensive review, our team, including electrical, mechanical, and software engineers, worked together to explore solutions from different angles. We drew up a complete schematic for the server on a whiteboard, erasing bits and changing things as we went and taking into account all possibilities before committing to an approach. After a few days of this process, an engineer stepped back from the board—the system architecture passed all the tests.

One innovation that emerged from this approach was our solution to the risk of memory loss if hard drives were spinning during turbulence. We designed an environmental board that monitored pressure, temperature, acceleration, and voltage. If this board sensed an adverse environmental event that would threaten the hard drives, it would talk to the computer through the BIOS we rewrote and immediately “park” the heads of the drives to protect them from damage.

Additionally, regulations specified that the server needed to withstand extreme cold, yet booting a hard drive in suboptimal temperatures can cause damage. Included temperature sensors ensure that the hard drives wouldn’t start until they were warm enough, and thermal pads provided heat regardless of aircraft conditions.

We started our process with patience and painstaking attention to detail, ensuring that we thoroughly understood the parameters and tests before designing the server. By resisting temptation to start designing too quickly before fully understanding how the architecture can meet the requirements, we were able to solve a series of issues that no one had previously been able to. The server we built passed every test and provided Wingspeed with an unprecedented asset for collecting and storing essential data.