The Fascinating World of Fiber Optic Cables

Fiber optics are considered the future of aircraft cable technology. The high-speed fiber cable is more lightweight than standard steel wiring and is extremely secure since it doesn’t use electromagnetic radiation to communicate information. In addition, harsh environment fiber optics are durable enough to handle the difficult stressors presented in a flight cycle. Coupled with its affordability, fiber optic cable is starting to be incorporated into newer aircraft cable systems. 

Despite its novelty in aviation, fiber optic cable technology has been utilized for data communication purposes since 1988. The Transatlantic Telecommunication Cables (TAT-8) were built in 1988 by an assortment of global investors including AT&T and French and British telecom carriers. The structure stretches from Tuckerton, New Jersey to locations in Whickerton, England and Podmoth, France, reaching a length of over 3,500 miles.

The six fiber-optic cables are bundled together in a copper casing amounting to less than one inch in total diameter. At the time of their installment, the telecommunication cables allowed for the transmission of data amounting to 40,000 phone calls at once. Since then, investments in fiber optic cable technology has grown steadily at an average growth of $2.2 billion per year, with investors including the likes of Google and Huawei Marine Networks.

So, we know it’s an up and coming technology, but what exactly is it, and how does it work? Fiber optic cables are glass fibers that can carry photons (light) across the cable through refraction. A standard cable consists of four distinct layers— the core, cladding, buffer coating, and jacket. The core is made up of pure glass, which is surrounded by the layer of cladding. Cladding is made of a glass or plastic composite that has a lower index of refraction than that of the core, which acts as a barrier to prevent light attenuation, or loss of light. The next two layers, the buffer coating and outer jacket, are added as protection from moisture and corrosive materials.

These cables utilize the concept of total internal reflection. When light travels, depending on the angle upon which it interacts with water or glass, it can be refracted or reflected. When pulses of light enter the cable core, they are emitted at a shallow angle that allows the light to be reflected off the walls of the glass fiber. In essence, the glass acts as a mirror, and reflects the light through the length of the cable. Remember that the surrounding cladding layer has a lower index of refraction; since pulses of light are emitted at a predetermined angle, the photons maintain their signal and do not escape through the cladding.

Depending on the necessary fiber optics bandwidth, most aircraft fiber optic systems will include a transmitters receivers, optical fiber, optical regenerator, and optical receiver. The optical transmitter encodes light signals and transmits them through the optical fiber. The fiber optic core carries the light signal to the optical receiver. Once the light mode reaches the optical receiver, it is decoded. This data transmitting system can be utilized on an aircraft for various purposes including data networks, in-flight entertainment, flight simulators, and radar systems.

At Fulfillment By ASAP, owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we can help you find the fiber optic cable or fiber optics parts you need, new or obsolete. As a premier supplier of parts for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries, we’re always available and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7x365. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at +1-914-359-2001.


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