Aircraft of all types have greatly advanced in the past few decades, and one of the biggest revolutions came in the form of reenvisioning the cockpit that pilots operate in. While many older aircraft models presented a fairly manual set of gauges and instruments to use that were often based on analog technology, modern aircraft now feature what is known as a glass cockpit. The term “glass cockpit” is used as the traditional analog features are replaced with LCD displays where all readings and instruments are either presented on a single primary flight display (PFD) or a Multi-Function Display (MFD). While these screens offer all necessary readings that analog instruments did, they also have the ability to present pilots with checklists, weather maps, engine data, and so much more.
Without a glass cockpit, pilots would traditionally rely on the “six pack” configuration that included the airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, turn coordinator, and the directional gyro. As all of these instruments and their reads are essential for standard flight operations, the glass cockpit simply combines all of these into one single display where information is digitally conveyed. One of the most basic parts of a typical glass cockpit is what is known as the Integrated Flight Deck. This element includes the electronic display that pilots view, as well as the controls that manage airspeed, altitude, and attitude readings, as well as those that manage navigation and communication processes. Additionally, the Integrated Flight Deck may also account for any display or control of airplane systems, engine systems, or airborne surveillance.
While the glass cockpit is a recognized term for the design prevalent in most modern aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not have its own official definition. Instead, the FAA defines it as what they consider a “technically advanced aircraft” (TAA) which is one with an IFR-certified GPS or an aircraft featuring an MFD with weather, traffic, and terrain readings, alongside an autopilot system. As such, not all glass cockpits are exactly the same, and they will often vary in the exact features they have based on the aircraft model, operating company, etc.
Despite the variations between glass cockpits, most will offer a pilot with multiple electronic displays that operate independently to provide a pilot with all information they require to carry out an efficient and safe flight. As it would be very dangerous for pilots to be staring at screens for too long when piloting the aircraft, glass cockpits are specifically designed to be as simple as possible to extract information from. Generally, the most important information will be provided on a single screen, and control is typically fairly straightforward. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended that any pilot takes the time to review the type of systems and functions that will be offered in the aircraft they are to fly before conducting an operation. With proper training and practice, their use can become much easier.
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