Glass Cockpit


A Boeing 777 glass cockpit

A Boeing 777 glass cockpit

A glass cockpit is an aircraft cockpit that features electronic instrument displays. Where a traditional cockpit relies on numerous mechanical gauges to display information, a glass cockpit utilizes several computer displays that can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. This simplifies aircraft operation and navigation and allows pilots to focus only on the most pertinent information. They are also highly popular with airline companies as they usually eliminate the need to employ a flight engineer.


The primary component of the glass cockpit is the Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS), which displays all information regarding the aircraft's situation, position and progress. Comprising left- and right-side primary flight display (PFD) and navigation display (nav) screens, EFIS primarily covers horizontal and vertical position, but also indicates time and speed. The second part of the glass cockpit, comprising over-and-under center display screens, shows the aircraft's systems conditions and engines performance. This is variously called EICAS (Engine Indications and Crew Alerting System) or ECAM (Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitor), the former being the Boeing term and the latter Airbus' acronym. All this information is graphically presented in a 'need-to-know' basis, however the pilot may query the system for further details of interest.

Early glass cockpits, found in the Boeing 737 Classic, 757 and 767-200/-300, and in the Airbus A300-600 and A310, used EFIS to display attitude and navigational information only, with traditional mechanical gauges retained for airspeed, altitude and vertical speed. Later glass cockpits, found in the Boeing 747-400, 767-400, 777, A320, and later Airbuses, have replaced completely the numerous mechanical gauges and warning lights present in previous generation aircraft.


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 100 cockpit instruments and controls, and the primary flight instruments were already crowded with indicators, crossbars, and symbols. In other words, 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 aircraft flight situation, culminating in a series of demonstration flights to demonstrate 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 Boeing 767 in 1982. Airlines and their passengers alike have benefited. The safety and efficiency of flights have been increased with improved pilot understanding of the aircraft's situation relative to its environment.

By the end of the 1990s, LCD display panels were increasingly favored among aircraft manufacturers because of their efficiency, reliability and legibility. Earlier CRT display panels suffered from poor legibility at some viewing angles and poor response times, making them unsuitable for aviation uses. Modern aircraft such as the Boeing 777, Boeing 787, and Boeing 747-400, Boeing 767-400ER, Airbus A320 family (enhanced version), Airbus A330, Airbus A340 , Airbus A380 and Airbus A350 are fitted with glass cockpits consisting of liquid crystal display (LCD) units

The glass cockpit has become standard equipment in airliners, business jets, and military aircraft, and 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 are only available with glass cockpit.

Future developments

Atlantis was the first space shuttle to have a glass cockpit (below)

glass cockpit

Unlike the previous era of glass cockpits-where designers merely copied the look and feel of conventional electromechanical instruments onto cathode ray tubes-the new displays represent a true departure. They look and behave a lot like computers with windows and data that can be manipulated with point-and-click devices. They also add terrain, approach charts, weather, vertical displays, and 3D navigation images.

The improved concepts enables aircraft makers to customize cockpits to a greater degree than previously. All of the manufacturers involved have chosen to do so in one way or another-such as using a trackball, thumb pad or joystick as a pilot-input device in a computer-style environment. Many of the modifications offered by the aircraft manufacturers improve situational awareness and customize the man-machine interface to enhance safety.

As aircraft displays have modernized, the sensors that feed them have modernized as well. Traditional gyroscopic flight instruments have been replaced by Attitude and Heading Reference Systems (AHRS) and Air Data Computers (ADCs), improving reliability and reducing cost and maintenance. GPS receivers are frequently integrated into glass cockpits.

All new airliners such as the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 and private jets such as Dassault Falcon 900 and Eclipse 500 use glass cockpits. Certain general aviation aircraft, such as the 4-seat Diamond Aircraft DA40, DA42 and DA50 and the 4-seat Cirrus Design SR20 and SR22, are available only with glass cockpits. Systems such as the Garmin G1000 are now available on many new GA aircraft, including the classic Cessna 172.

Glass cockpits are also very popular as a retrofit for older, private jets such as Dassault Falcons, Raytheon Hawkers, Bombardier Challengers, Cessna Citations, Gulfstreams, King Airs, Learjets, Astras and many others. Aviation service companies work closely with equipment manufacturers to address the needs of the owners of these aircraft.


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