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Cockpit Evolution

Since the beginning of aviation, the aircraft cockpit has evolved quite significantly. Initially, flight controls were just simple sticks and only the most essential information—such as airspeed, the artificial horizon, altimeter and direction indication (which we later named the basic “T”)—was provided to pilots.

After the Second World War, the aviation revolution continued with the birth of modern aviation. New technologies, such as electromechanical indicators using raw sensor information converted into electrical signals were developed. Other technologies, like inertial reference units, triggered the onset of navigation computers providing position, speed and heading. This continuous improvement of systems led to a reduction of flight crews, from five (two pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and a radio engineer) to three (two pilots and a flight engineer).

By the end of the 1970s, the data used by computers started to be digitized. This is when cockpits became more ergonomic and the avionics system optimized, with the emergence of glass cockpits, digital autopilot systems and flight management systems.

In 1987, Airbus introduced the first digital fly-by-wire in a commercial aircraft cockpit with its A320. The control column was removed for the first time and replaced with an electronic side-stick, saving a lot of space in the cockpit and revolutionizing the way airplanes are flown.

In the beginning of the 21st century, other upgrades significantly improved aircraft cockpits. Integrated modular avionics architecture became standard. Aircraft flight displays were replaced by smart LCDs. Touch screen technologies also became commonplace in the cockpit. New means of interaction, such as the use of Wi-Fi and smartphones slowly became part of everyday life.

Since the beginning of aviation, the cockpit is, without a doubt, one of the parts of an aircraft that has evolved the most. Over time, these changes have significantly reduced pilots’ workload and, in doing so, have also improved flight comfort, efficiency and most importantly, safety.

So, what’s next on the horizon? Leave us a comment below to let us know what you think is in store for the aircraft cockpit next. And don’t forget to join us over the coming weeks to learn about the next phase of aircraft cockpit revolution, which is coming sooner than you may think!

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