Every time I belt into the left seat of an Eclipse 500, I’m reminded that it’s the only jet I’ve yet flown with active sidesticks. That’s because the left and right cockpit controls are mechanically linked to each other as well as to the flight control surfaces. If one pilot moves the sidestick, the other pilot can see and feel those inputs being made to the flight controls. If the autopilot makes inputs to the flight control system, both sidesticks also move, to provide tactile and visual feedback.

However, those essential situational awareness cues are missing from every fly-by-wire airplane I’ve flown with sidestick controls, such as the Airbus A320, Airbus A400M, Dassault Rafale and Falcon 7X and the Embraer Legacy 500.

That’s about to change with the introduction of BAE Systems’ active inceptor sidesticks aboard the Gulfstream 500 and 600, the first civil aircraft to use a technology that made its debut aboard the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

BAE’s active inceptors have electrical servos that enable the cockpit controls to mimic the action of mechanically linked sidesticks. Data flows from the control controls to the fly-by-wire system and also from the digital flight controls back to the sidesticks. Data from the flight control computers causes the sidesticks to move together and also moves the sidesticks as the autopilot makes inputs to the flight control system.

“We’re taking a step forward in situational awareness,” says Adam Taylor, BAE Systems’ director for advanced inceptors. “We also can build them with soft stops in force feel to provide tactile cues for structural and aerodynamic limits. We even can equip them with stick shakers and pushers for stall barrier protection.” And depending on the needs of the airframe manufacturer, they’re capable of providing Q feel so that control input effort varies as a function of equivalent airspeed.

Naysayers claim that, with all these new functions, active sidesticks will suffer much higher failure rates than passive sidesticks. Taylor counters that the gear is designed for very long life, with multiple redundancies. “We give the sticks the intelligence to monitor their own performance. And you can feel if the stick is going out of calibration.” He forecasts a mean time between unscheduled removal that will be on par with that of passive sidesticks.

I’ve sampled the capabilities of BAE’s active sidesticks in Gulfstream’s G500 engineering mockup in Savannah. I’m sold. The sidesticks move together as though I were back in the Eclipse 500. If it were up to me, I’d mandate that all new FBW airplanes with sidesticks be upgraded to active inceptors as a condition of type certification. It would be beneficial if there also were retrofit programs, but Taylor says the technology “lends itself to when people are developing new platforms.”

So I say, hats off to Gulfstream for adopting this beneficial new technology. Let’s hope that other airframe manufacturers follow Savannah’s lead.