Defining the Future of Flight

The Glass Cockpit

The Boeing 757 and 767 better aerial office glass cockpit that featured simplified systems, a flight management computer and graphic display screens

The introduction of the Boeing 757 and 767 in the 1980s brought the two-crew glass cockpit to airline service. The term "glass cockpit" refers to the use of cathode ray tube displays for most of the primary instruments in lieu of the old-fashioned "steam gauge" electromechanical instruments used on other airliners.

The result was a "better aerial office" that featured simplified systems, a flight management computer and graphic display screens. Together these elements dramatically reduced the workload associated with managing an airplane's systems. This innovative flight deck had its roots in the pioneering human factors and ergonomics work done for the two-crew flight deck of the 737 and the flight deck display technologies developed by Boeing for the Supersonic Transport in the late 1960s.

Because of the demands of supersonic flight, the Boeing 2707 -- as the U.S. SST would have been known -- was to have been the first commercial airplane to fly with computer display screens. The 2707 was to have carried nearly 300 passengers at close to three times the speed of sound.

"Supersonic flight is a ticklish operating realm that requires precise flight control," said retired Boeing employee Del Fadden, who at the time was a flight deck chief engineer. "The instruments then in use simply weren't practical at those speeds, so we came up with something better."

The cancellation of the SST in 1971 did not end Boeing research into glass cockpits. Impressed by what Boeing had accomplished, the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA both asked the company to continue its investigations into this emerging technology.

Before long, NASA's Boeing 737-100 test plane was flying with electronic display screens under a NASA program called the Terminal Configured Vehicle. This pioneering program also tested new navigational aids and automatic flight controls.

The stage was thus set by the late 1970s for Boeing to build further on its experience and deliver the industry's first glass cockpit. The 767 introduced this technology to scheduled airline service when it entered service in September 1982. The 757 was next, entering service in January 1983.

The CRT displays of these twinjets included a key innovation: the Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System, which grew out of a major research project called Advanced System Monitoring that used the two centrally located CRTs to display engine and subsystem information as well as crew checklist data. EICAS put on two screens what had previously required a third instrument panel operated by the flight engineer, a third crew member who was no longer needed. EICAS is a major contributor to the modern two-crew flight deck.

"The whole development of EICAS and its myriad systems interfaces was a great achievement by a diverse and dedicated Boeing team," said Jeff Ohlson, a retired Boeing flight deck and crew operations engineer. "Although it evolved over several airplane programs to the 787's multifunction interface, the basic groundbreaking design philosophy invented for the original 757/767 EICAS is still an inherent part of Boeing's new system designs."

Along with the development of the glass cockpit, Boeing also continued studying human factors, including such things as the interior color of the flight deck as well as flat-panel multicolor displays rather than monochrome. Even the flight deck's seat covers and air conditioning were extensively studied to determine what designs would be the least fatiguing. Midway through the development of the 757 and 767, a Boeing team of industrial design specialists, aerodynamic engineers and flight deck designers realized that both these jetliners -- one single-aisle and the other twin-aisle -- might be able to share a common flight deck.

Exploring this intriguing possibility, Ken Holtby, Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior vice president for Engineering, formed the Flight Deck Design Committee. Fadden chaired this work group, which included 767 flight deck project engineer Harty Stoll, 757 flight deck project engineer Peter Morton, and Boeing engineering test pilots John Armstrong, Tom Edmonds and Ken Higgins. Together they successfully gave the 757 and 767 a common flight deck and a single pilot type rating - an industry first.

This Boeing innovation let airlines treat these airplanes as a single type, with the result of reduced crew training costs and increased pilot scheduling flexibility for the Boeing customers who operated what Boeing called "the 757/767 family."

Two-crew flight decks have become the standard for all commercial jets. This advancement has benefited the military as well, as much of the technology also allows big military transports such as the C-17 to be easily operated by a two-person flight crew.

The two-person flight deck concepts that Boeing initiated in the original 737 design and later refined in the innovative 757/767 flight deck have had a substantial economic benefit to airline customers.

A common type rating for two different airplane types is a Boeing invention that Boeing and competitor jetliners alike use today. The families of 737 airplanes from the -100 to the -900 are designed for common crew operation, and the new 787 is designed around common training and operational criteria to be a member with the 777 family.

The design principles inherent in the 737, 757 and 767 have become the foundation for all airplanes that followed. The key design philosophy of simplicity, redundancy and automation continue to shape the pilot interface on all Boeing airplanes.