Cockpit design: 100 years of progress

The earliest aircraft cockpits were very simple, writes Alud Davies. This was not by design, there were just not as many controls for pilots to contend with. Louis Blériot’s cockpit had fewer than 10 dials. But as aircraft evolved and became more complicated, so did their operation. What was once a one-person job, evolved into a job for two or even more. Talk about job creation!

The flight deck has been one of the main areas of innovation in aviation. These days the confusing mass of dials and knobs have been replaced by flat-panel displays that can control almost every system of the aircraft. Of course, not all knobs and dials can be replaced, but modern cockpits are a sea of glass.

The term glass cockpit usually refers to a cockpit where the majority of the major instruments are either in a Primary Flight Display (PFD) or Multi-Function Flight Display (MFD).

The MFDs and PFDs look and act very similar to an iPad. They are large flat-screen displays with touch controls to change the information that is being displayed. At the touch of the screen a pilot can change any of the information that he is looking at, so he could go directly from looking at data about altitude and heading, to detailed information about engine temperatures and fuel burn. Blériot didn’t need all this on July 25 1909 on the first powered flight across the English Channel – he could see the shores of England all the way from France.

Flight Display Modules

The beautifully clean Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE) design in the Pilatus PC-24 is based on the Honeywell Primus Epic 2.0 integrated avionics suite. Pilots have access to four 12-inch high-performance LCD displays, each giving them an array of different information at a single click. The pilots each have a screen in front of them that act as Primary Flight Displays (PFDs), whilst the centre console includes two

Multi-Function Flight Displays (MFDs).

In normal configuration the lower of the MFDs acts as a systems MFD, giving information on aircraft systems, including fuel burn and engine temperature. The top MFD acts as a situational MFD, although the configuration of both MFDs can be switched around. Each of the pilots’ PFDs can display images directly from Honeywell’s SmartView Synthetic Vision System (SVS).

The SVS takes information from the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) database and mixes together data from outboard sensors. An accurate display of the aircraft’s surroundings is then displayed as a 3D image on the PFD giving pilots a precise picture of what’s going on outside the aircraft if flying conditions are less than ideal. The SVS also uses advanced flight-path symbology, which aims to reduce the time that pilots need to scan other cockpit instruments to interpret changes in weight and configuration during critical flight phases. Cockpit design has come a long way since Blériot crossed the channel.

Alud Davies, Asia Editor, Corporate Jet Investor