Cockpits Through the Ages

The design of a cockpit has changed dramatically over the years as technology has improved. Dials, gauges and even crew members have been replaced with an ever increasing amount of glass while the fundamentals have remained largely the same.

Take a look at this selection of photos which really demonstrate the progress that has been made.

The Boeing 737 first flew in 1967 and entered commercial service in February 1968 with German flag carrier Lufthansa.

Since then, more than 10,000 have been built throughout four generations including the -100 and -200, Classic, Next Generation (NG) and MAX.

Pictured above is the 737-100 compared with the 737-300. The later variant was produced between 1984 and 2000 – nearly 2,000 examples were built. The difference between the cockpits is moderate as it includes the optional Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS) which added the screens. However, most of the dials still remained.

The real differences appear when you compare the -300 to the NG. Introduced in 1997, the third generation of the 737 featured upgraded CFM International CFM56 engines, larger wings and most notably, a full glass cockpit.

Boeing said goodbye to the dials and hello to glass. The emergence of the Airbus A320 in the 1990s forced the American manufacturer to upgrade the 737 as its European counterpart began to take its market share its full glass cockpit narrowbody jet.

Speaking of Airbus, their cockpit development has followed a similar path to their American rivals. Founded in 1970, the firm’s first aircraft was the A300 – it too featured a large number of dials. The European manufacturer was slightly quicker to adopt digital screens in their flight deck design philosophy than Boeing – its next aircraft, the A310 first used the technology in 1982.

The contrast image features the A350, a state-of-the-art aircraft that has a large amount of screen-space on the flight deck. First operated in 2013, the focus for most manufacturers is now on reducing the workload for pilots by putting all the information they need on screens.

The iconic Boeing 747 has been produced in a large number of variants, each one providing a slightly different cockpit design. The picture above shows the contrast between the -100 (the first generation) and the -400, the most popular variant.

One major difference between a lot of these aircraft and their modern counterparts is the fact that now only a two-person crew is needed to operate the aircraft, as opposed to a three-person detail including a flight engineer.

Once manufacturers were able to put most of the information on screens, this removed the need for a third crew member.

Just to demonstrate how far cockpits have really come, the above shows a de Havilland Comet – the world’s first jet engine-powered airliner – and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The contrast is quite dramatic, but then you must consider the fact that more than 60 years separates these aircraft. It’s safe to say though, that cockpits have certainly come a very long way.