What is a Glass Cockpit?

Ryan Capizano

The term "glass cockpit" describes an enhancement of an aircraft flight deck so it features digital displays rather than traditional analog gauges. Generally installed on jets and high-end general aviation aircraft, a glass cockpit provides pilots with a higher level of information in a more efficient manner compared to conventional cockpits. Screens range in size and are capable of displaying navigation, system and weather information in a highly organized fashion. This type of instrumentation is useful for the flight crew, which is able to collect more information in a shorter period of time.

Advanced fighter aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor, have instrument panels that consist entirely of digital displays.
Advanced fighter aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor, have instrument panels that consist entirely of digital displays.

A glass cockpit system's main objective is to enhance the flight crew's situational awareness. Pilots are able to monitor aircraft systems such as engines, hydraulics and pneumatics with only the push of a button. With conventional cockpit layouts, pilots are required to consult many different instruments to obtain the same information. Glass cockpit systems come in varying levels of complexity, with some featuring traffic advisories, weather data links and even satellite radio.

General aviation aircraft with glass cockpit systems often feature two to three screens along with backup instruments. These backup instruments are necessary in the event of the primary system's failure. General aviation aircraft with this type of system also feature a backup battery to supplement the primary battery, and both are capable of being recharged by the aircraft's alternator. Pilots should consider completing additional training with a certified flight instructor before moving from traditional aircraft instrumentation to glass cockpit systems.

Highly sophisticated glass cockpit systems, such as those found on commercial jets, feature a layout consisting of a multifunction flight display (MFD), a primary flight display (PFD), and an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS). The PFD contains flight information such as attitude, heading, airspeed and altitude. Navigation, temperature and ground speed, along with specific system information, is found on the MFD. The EICAS screen displays engine data, landing gear and flap indications, fuel levels and text warnings pertaining to system failures.

One major advantage of glass cockpits is what pilots refer to as a "decluttering" of information. Minor indications and issues not pertaining to the current situation are often removed from immediate view. For example, a glass cockpit system may remove the indicator responsible for determining the presence of a ground-based power source while the aircraft is in flight. This type of automation allows pilots to attend to more important duties without unnecessary distractions.

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