Fundamentals of Electronics – Digital Electronics (Part One)

in Communication and Navigation

Digital Electronics

The above discussion of semiconductors, semiconductor devices, and circuitry is only an introduction to the electronics found in communications and navigation avionics. In-depth maintenance of the interior electronics on most avionics devices is performed only by certified repair stations and trained avionics technicians. The airframe technician is responsible for installation, maintenance, inspection, and proper performance of avionics in the aircraft.


Modern aircraft increasingly employs digital electronics in avionics rather than analog electronics. Transistors are used in digital electronics to construct circuits that act as digital logic gates. The purpose and task of a device is achieved by manipulating electric signals through the logic gates. Thousands, and even millions, of tiny transistors can be placed on a chip to create the digital logic landscape through which a component’s signals are processed.

Digital Building Blocks

Digital logic is based on the binary number system. There are two conditions than may exist, 1 or 0. In a digital circuit, these are equivalent to voltage or no voltage. Within the binary system, these two conditions are called Logic 1 and Logic 0. Using just these two conditions, gates can be constructed to manipulate information. There are a handful of common logic gates that are used. By combining any number of these tiny solid-state gates, significant memorization, manipulation, and calculation of information can be performed.

The NOT Gate

The NOT gate is the simplest of all gates. If the input to the gate is Logic 1, then the output is NOT Logic 1. This means that it is Logic 0, since there are only two conditions in the binary world. In an electronic circuit, a NOT gate would invert the input signal. In other words, if there was voltage at the input to the gate, there would be no output voltage. The gate can be constructed with transistors and resistors to yield this electrical logic every time. (The gate or circuit would also have to invert an input of Logic 0 into an output of Logic 1.)

To understand logic gates, truth tables are often used. A truth table gives all of the possibilities in binary terms for each gate containing a characteristic logic function. For example, a truth table for a NOT gate is illustrated in Figure 11-61. Any input (A) is NOT present at the output (B). This is simple, but it defines this logic situation. A tiny NOT gate circuit can be built using transistors that produce these results. In other words, a circuit can be built such that if voltage arrives at the gate, no voltage is output or vice-versa.

Figure 11-61. A NOT logic gate symbol and a NOT gate truth table.

Figure 11-61. A NOT logic gate symbol and a NOT gate truth table.

When using transistors to build logic gates, the primary concern is to operate them within the circuits so the transistors are either OFF (not conducting) or fully ON (saturated). In this manner, reliable logic functions can be performed. The variable voltage and current situations present during the active mode of the transistor are of less importance.

Figure 11-62 illustrates an electronic circuit diagram that performs the logic NOT gate function. Any input, either a no voltage or voltage condition, yields the opposite output. This gate is built with bipolar junction transistors, resistors, and a few diodes. Other designs exist that may have different components.

Figure 11-62. An electronic circuit that reliably performs the NOT logic function.

Figure 11-62. An electronic circuit that reliably performs the NOT logic function.

When examining and discussing digital electronic circuits, the electronic circuit design of a gate is usually not presented. The symbol for the logic gate is most often used. [Figure 11-61] The technician can then concentrate on the configuration of the logic gates in relation to each other. A brief discussion of the other logic gates, their symbols, and truth tables follow.

Buffer Gate

Another logic gate with only one input and one output is the buffer. It is a gate with the same output as the input. While this may seem redundant or useless, an amplifier may be considered a buffer in a digital circuit because if there is voltage present at the input, there is an output voltage. If there is no voltage at the input, there is no output voltage. When used as an amplifier, the buffer can change the values of a signal. This is often done to stabilize a weak or varying signal. All gates are amplifiers subject to output fluctuations. The buffer steadies the output of the upstream device while maintaining its basic characteristic. Another application of a buffer that is two NOT gates, is to use it to isolate a portion of a circuit. [Figure 11-63]

Figure 11-63. A buffer or amplifier symbol and the truth table of the buffer, which is actually two consecutive NOT gates.

Figure 11-63. A buffer or amplifier symbol and the truth table of the buffer, which is actually two consecutive NOT gates.

AND Gate

Most common logic gates have two inputs. Three or more inputs are possible on some gates. When considering the characteristics of any logic gate, an output of Logic 1 is sought and a condition for the inputs is stated or examined. For example, Figure 11-64 illustrates an AND gate. For an AND gate to have a Logic 1 output, both inputs have to be Logic 1. In an actual electronic circuit, this means that for a voltage to be present at the output, the AND gate circuit has to receive voltage at both of its inputs. As pointed out, there are different arrangements of electronic components that yield this result. Whichever is used is summarized and presented as the AND gate symbol. The truth table in Figure 11-64 illustrates that there is only one way to have an output of Logic 1 or voltage when using an AND gate.

Figure 11-64. An AND gate symbol and its truth table.

Figure 11-64. An AND gate symbol and its truth table.

OR Gate

Another useful and common logic gate is the OR gate. In an OR gate, to have an output of Logic 1 (voltage present), one of the inputs must be Logic 1. As seen in Figure 11-65, only one of the inputs needs to be Logic 1 for there to be an output of Logic 1. When both inputs are Logic 1, the OR gate has a Logic 1 output because it still meets the condition of one of the inputs being Logic 1.

Figure 11-65. An OR gate symbol and its truth table.

Figure 11-65. An OR gate symbol and its truth table.

NAND Gate

The AND, OR, and NOT gates are the basic logic gates. A few other logic gates are also useful. They can be derived from combining the AND, OR, and NOT gates. The NAND gate is a combination of an AND gate and a NOT gate. This means that AND gate conditions must be met and then inverted. So, the NAND gate is an AND gate followed by a NOT gate. The truth table for a NAND gate is shown in Figure 11-66 along with its symbol. If a Logic 1 output is to exist from a NAND gate, inputs A and B must not both be Logic 1. Or, if a NAND gate has both inputs Logic 1, the output is Logic 0. Stated in electronic terms, if there is to be an output voltage, then the inputs cannot both have voltage or, if both inputs have voltage, there is no output voltage. NOTE: The values in the output column of the NAND gate table are exactly the opposite of the output values in the AND gate truth table.

Figure 11-66. A NAND gate symbol and its truth table illustrating that the NAND gate is an inverted AND gate.

Figure 11-66. A NAND gate symbol and its truth table illustrating that the NAND gate is an inverted AND gate.