Glass Cockpit - History


Prior to the 1970s, air transport operations were not considered sufficiently demanding to require advanced equipment like electronic flight displays. Also, computer technology was not at a level where sufficiently light and powerful circuits were available. The increasing complexity of transport aircraft, the advent of digital systems and the growing air traffic congestion around airports began to change that.

The average transport aircraft in the mid-1970s had more than one hundred cockpit instruments and controls, and the primary flight instruments were already crowded with indicators, crossbars, and symbols, and the growing number of cockpit elements were competing for cockpit space and pilot attention. As a result, NASA conducted research on displays that could process the raw aircraft system and flight data into an integrated, easily understood picture of the flight situation, culminating in a series of flights demonstrating a full glass cockpit system.

The success of the NASA-led glass cockpit work is reflected in the total acceptance of electronic flight displays beginning with the introduction of the MD-80 in 1979. Airlines and their passengers alike have benefited. The safety and efficiency of flights has been increased with improved pilot understanding of the aircraft's situation relative to its environment (or "situational awareness").

By the end of the 1990s, Liquid crystal display (LCD) panels were increasingly favored among aircraft manufacturers because of their efficiency, reliability and legibility. Earlier LCD panels suffered from poor legibility at some viewing angles and poor response times, making them unsuitable for aviation. Modern aircraft such as the Boeing 737 Next Generation, 777, 717, 747-400ER, 767-400ER, 747-8, and 787, Airbus A320 family (later versions), A330 (later versions), A340-500/600, A340-300 (later versions), A380 and A350 are fitted with glass cockpits consisting of LCD units.

The glass cockpit has become standard equipment in airliners, business jets, and military aircraft. It was even fitted into NASA's Space Shuttle orbiters Atlantis, Columbia, Discovery, and Endeavour, and the current Russian Soyuz TMA model spacecraft that was launched in 2002. By the end of the century glass cockpits began appearing in general aviation aircraft as well. By 2005, even basic trainers like the Piper Cherokee and Cessna 172 were shipping with glass cockpits as options (which nearly all customers chose), and many modern aircraft such as the Diamond Aircraft twin-engine travel and training aircraft DA42, and Cirrus Design SR20 and SR22 are available with glass cockpit only. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, features a "panoramic cockpit display" touchscreen that replaces most of the switches and toggles found in an aircraft cockpit.

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