The glass cockpit era
The cockpits of both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft have definitively gone digital. These "glass" cockpits facilitate the pilot's tasks throughout the flight, especially under difficult conditions, by improving access to vital information.
Now taking off…
It's December 16, 2020, and the weather around the Grenoble-Isère airport, in southeast France, is nothing to write home about. After the heavy snowfall the day before, a light freezing rain has covered the region since dawn.
Although visibility is naturally limited, a state-of-the-art helicopter is about to take off with a few passengers to Nice.
At the controls is Bruno, a seasoned pilot with over 28,000 flight-hours during his 35-year career. He has flown just about every type of machine, all the way to this latest-generation rotorcraft recently acquired by his company.
His young co-pilot, Marc, earned his pilot's license just a few months ago, and is eager for more experience.
Safer, easier flying
As the helicopter taxis over to the takeoff zone, Marc looks at a 1990s model in front of a hangar, and can't help sighing:
Can you imagine that at one time you had to fly a machine like that?
Bruno, amused by this naïve reflection, answers,
In fact I can, because I was at the controls!
As he takes off, Bruno continues,
It's true that what we're flying today is nothing like the machines I flew when I was your age." He displays the latest info on the touch screen, explaining to his young co-pilot, "In the older choppers, you had to be looking everywhere, because there were so many analog instruments in the cockpit. Today it's much simpler: I just adapt the display on each screen according to where we are in the flight: takeoff, cruise, approach or landing.
As the helicopter reaches its cruise altitude, the captain adds:
Before, we had three different flight controls: the cyclic stick, the collective lever and the anti-torque pedals. Today, we can do everything with this side stick and the associated buttons. It's so much more intuitive and user-friendly!
When fiction surpasses reality
As the helicopter continues along its assigned flight path to Nice, Bruno checks the latest readings, now shown on his helmet-mounted display.
His young colleague's remarks send him back in time, when he had to prepare and file his flight plan, using maps, weather reports, etc.
Today, the machine's flight computers receive a constant flow of data, updated in real time. By improving access to information the digitization of cockpits has not only lightened the pilot's workload, but also made flying more accurate and reliable.
It has also contributed to a significant reduction in weight and size. For operators, that means lower fuel consumption and higher payload capacity
and of course a better return on their investment.
The Nice heliport is now in view, and a message pops up on the screen, announcing that they're about to land – on schedule of course.