Warplanes: Not Your Grandfathers Fighter Cockpit


January 28, 2006: TV and movie depictions of life in fighter cockpits still look a lot like World War II. But the reality is that in the past sixty years, the inside of that cockpit has changed dramatically, if somewhat gradually. For example, the joystick began disappearing, in U.S. aircraft anyway, some two decades ago. Even before that, the HUD (Head Up Display) began to show pilots all sorts of information, on what appeared to be a see-through computer screen at the front of the cockpit canopy. About the same time the joystick became old-school, while the instruments and dials in the front of the cockpit were getting replaced by computer displays. These displays eventually displaced all the old fashioned stuff, and became touch sensitive as well. Just like many ATMs, or laptop computers. Meanwhile, the French pioneered controls that responded to voice commands (even when given in a voice stressed by combat, or pulling lots of Gs). Added to this were HUD type displays on the pilots visor, as well as sensors that knew what the pilot was looking at.

Much more automation is now available to pilots. This includes diagnostics of system failures (or battle damage), tactical advice and automatic landing systems (autopilot for level flight has been around for a long time.) Today's fighter cockpit is very definitely not your grandfathers fighter cockpit.


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