DO-178 Introduction Whitepaper
Avionics certification explained
FOR ENGINEERS AND MANAGERS
Avionics certification explained – the big picture. The roles of Safety (ARP-4761A), Systems (ARP-4754A) and the avionics development ecosystem are fully described along DO-178C’s and DO-254’s relationship facts.
DO-178 has an innocuous title: ”Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification.” But it’s best not to judge the book by its cover. In reality. ‘178,’ as Industry slang calls it. is largely considered the bible of avionics software development. Interestingly, since it was first developed in the 80’s (a time in which there was relatively little software in safety-critical systems), it has become the de facto embodiment for much of those systems. In fact, a careful examination of standards within Military aviation, medical devices, railroads, automotive, and nuclear power will reveal striking similarities with 178. An accidental coincidence? Hardly. Was 178 the first such standard? That answer hardly matters. except that history is important. And why is history important in the case of DO-178? Because 178 has evolved via three subsequent iterations and it’s important to understand the reasons for those changes.
Remember the parable about the seven blind men and the elephant? Each touched a different part of the elephant and tried to describe what they were touching without knowing anything about the other parts of the elephant. An impossible task indeed, yet it’s an easy trap to tall into within aviation: aircraft and their systems are so complex that no single person can fully understand all the intricacies. In other words. without enlightenment. we’re all little better than the blind men. DO-178 attempts to lay a framework so that development personnel and certification authorities can work with full vision and leave residual blindness behind. 178 does succeed in providing such a framework. However, it doesn’t guarantee clarity of vision and certainly not perfection. What. avionics software is not perfect? Of course not. DO-178 isn’t perfect? Hardly. In fact, paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s famous quotation concerning democracy. ‘DO-178 is the worst standard in the world except tor all the others!”
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