Glass cockpit

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The flight deck of the Airbus A320, showing six large electronic displays forming its glass cockpit. The 2 outer displays on both sides of the cockpit forms the EFIS. The 2 centre displays forms the ECAM/EICAS.
The advanced flight deck concepts utilising highly graphical representations and 'point-and-click' PC-style interface already common in advanced fighters.
The advanced flight deck concepts utilising highly graphical representations and 'point-and-click' PC-style interface already common in advanced fighters.

A Glass cockpit is an aircraft cockpit that features electronic instrument displays. A relatively recent development, glass cockpits are highly sought-after upgrades from traditional cockpits. Where a traditional cockpit relies on numerous mechanical gauges to display information, a glass cockpit utilizes a few computer-controlled displays that can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. This simplifies the cockpit enormously and allows pilots to focus only on the most pertinant information.

The primary component of the glass cockpit, the EFIS (electronic flight information system), displays all information regarding the aircraft's situation, position and progress. It covers more the basic horizontal and vertical dimensions, but also conveys progress with regard to time and speed as well. The second part of the glass cockpit displays 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). All this information is graphically presented in a 'need-to-know' basis, however the pilot may query the system for further details of interest. The glass cockpit is present in all current airliners. It has replaced 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. As well, computer technology was not at a level where sufficiently light and 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 did 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 benefitted. Safety and efficiency of flight have been increased with improved pilot understanding of the airplane's situation relative to its environment.

Since then, it became standard equipment in airliners, business jets, military aircraft and also fitted in the Space shuttle. 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 choose), and it seems unlikely that many certified aircraft will ship without them in the future.

Future Developments

Unlike the previous era of glass cockpitswhere designers merely copied the look and feel of conventional electromechanical instruments onto cathode ray tubesthe 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. And they add terrain, approach charts, vertical displays and 3D navigation images.

The improved concepts enables aircraft makers to customize cockpits to a greater degree than previously. And all of the manufacturers involved have chosen to do so in one way or anothersuch 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 Falcon 900 and Eclipse 500 use glass cockpits. Certain General aviation aircraft, such as the 4-seat Cirrus Design SR20 and SR22, are available only with glass cockpits.

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