Image: W.L. Gore

Lightweight and able to transfer data at up to 100 Gbps, fiber-optic cables will soon be commonplace on board aircraft, according to W.L. Gore.

Copper cabling may not cut it in the long term when it comes to delivering data via next-generation standards of Ethernet, HDMI or USB for avionics, cabin management, high-resolution digital video and weather radar systems, said Jeremy Moore, product specialist at W.L. Gore, a manufacturing company specializing in products derived from fluoropolymers. “You can only go so far with copper. It’s physics. Once you start running faster protocols that go beyond 10 gigabits per second (Gbps), the cable requires heavier gauge copper to run the same distances between your boxes and your servers, so you have to move to fiber-optic.”

Lightweight, with the ability to transfer data at up to 100 Gbps, and handle longer, more complex routing, optical fiber passes aerospace flammability, smoke and toxicity requirements and has many qualities that make it superior to copper. But it is also extremely delicate to handle – so much so that OEMs and airlines refrain from using the material to avoid the implications and additional costs that could come with a challenging installation.

W.L. Gore, however, has this problem figured out. Its 1.8-mm Simplex cables are agnostic to fiber glass types and feature a multilayered casing to protect and create a buffer around the precious optical fiber. “Our packaging is the reason why we have this robust fiber-optic cable,” Moore said. “It acts like a crash helmet.”

Through rigorous testing, W.L. Gore has proven that the cables can maintain signal integrity over a range of temperatures and abrasions and overcome tight bends that result from bunching and squeezing multiples into tight, space-constrained areas inside the aircraft. Impact resistance has even been tested to a standard required to pass a thicker, 2.5-mm fiberoptic cable to ensure the 1.8-mm cable well surpasses the criteria for its category.

As airlines collect more flight data from avionics networks, cabin management, digital video and weather radar systems, Moore said, optical fiber on aircraft will be more commonplace. “We’re hitting a point in the industry where airlines are going to need to switch to fiber-optic to achieve the amount of data transfer they need,” he said.