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GE Aviation Common Core System for the 787 Dreamliner marks debut of open architecture approach for this type of commercial aviation system

Common Core System CCR modules
The open architecture common core system (CCS) that houses third-party modules. Source: GE Aviation.

On Wednesday, ANA made the first commercial flight with one of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliners (earlier post)—a 4-hour hop from Tokyo to Hong Kong. The Dreamliner marks a number of visible—and many more not so visible—innovations in design, materials, flight systems, propulsion and environmental performance. (On Wednesday, the UK Guardian ran a poll asking if “all airlines should be forced to fly the most environmentally friendly plane possible—such as the Dreamliner.” Almost 56% of respondents so far have said “yes”.)

GE Aviation Systems is a key supplier on the 787, including the common core system (CCS) and the landing gear actuation, indication and nose wheel steering systems. (GE also is one of the engine suppliers for the 787). The CCS is the backbone of the Boeing 787’s computers, networks and interfacing electronics, and provides the primary computing environment for the Dreamliner. The Dreamliner CCS marks the debut of an open architecture approach to this critical system, notes George Kiefer, vice president of Avionics, North America, GE Aviation Systems.

This open architecture approach may be one of the key highlights of the system, Kiefer said, as it enables savings on the cost of change down the road.

Diagram showing where the common core system (CCS) is connected throughout the 787 aircraft. Most of what is noted in the fuselage are the 21 or so remote data concentrators that GE provides and are advanced sensors to the CCS. Source: GE Aviation. Click to enlarge.

The Dreamliner CCS uses 21 remote data concentrators (RDCs) to consolidate inputs from the aircraft’s systems and sensors—for example, from the sensors in the landing gears, out on the wings, the vertical stabilizer—and distribute it via the Rockwell Collins avionics full duplex switched Ethernet network. (This is also the first time RDCs have been used throughout the aircraft, Kiefer said.)

GE developed the common core system on the Wind River VxWorks 653 partitioned operating environment. VxWorks is a real-time operating system (RTOS) used in more than 1 billion real-time systems across the globe, from small consumer products to commercial airliners. Wind River is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Intel, but the GE CCS uses a Freescale platform.

The CCS is designed, manufactured and tested at GE’s US locations in Washington and Michigan and at its Cheltenham UK facility.

We are ecstatic about first delivery on the airplane. It took seven years developing the common core system and getting through flight testing. Getting into production for us is a great opportunity.

This is the first time on commercial air transport, where there is effectively a [CCS] computing platform with software from many different vendors. This is based on a Freescale [processor] platform, Wind River does part of the operating system. That’s one of the unique attribute of the system, an open architecture standard.

Part of it is the partitioned operating system—you can go in and test the portions that change. That’s a major opportunity.

—George Kiefer

The CCS unit is about 2.5 to 3 feet across, about 15 inches deep, and used forced air cooling. Each cabinet has dual power supplies and redundant processors, and there are two cabinets on the airplane. Everything is redundant Kiefer said, including the network.

There are similar systems on some military aircraft, Kiefer noted, and there is similar technology on the C919 (the large aircraft developed by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China). GE is already redeploying portions of the Dreamliner CCS—which is a scalable system—within the business jet market.



The replacement of specialized computing hardware with time-sliced allocations on common redundant modules is a big advance. Virtualization of the functionality allows the reliability to go way up without any other changes.


Two redundant units installed in two separate places running in parallel on separate power sources could have been (more) failed safe.


They run on different power buses. Heck, even relatively minor subsystems have their pieces divided between different buses, and important ones have dual power supplies able to power them from a minimum of two out of the three. The main computing systems will have power from all buses.


Yes, they probably do. Data computation is certainly 3x with best of selected. I was more worried about the vulnerability of having all the data collected in a single place. We avoided that with complete dual systems, in our Air Traffic control centers, together with triple main power sources, dual secondary power sources, double and triple exterior data pathways etc. We had no main failures in the last 20+ years. Even during the wide area power blackout, 399 out of 400 external and internal facilities worked normally until grid power was restored 4 to 6 days latter in many places.

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