Glass Cockpit Technology
Jan 15, 2013

Over the last 10 years the introduction of 4th Generation front-line fighters has led to a revolution in basic and advanced military flying training. Fifth generation front-line aircraft which are just entering service are additionally equipped with highly advanced glass cockpit technology and mission systems (5th Generation being defined for the purposes of this paper as combat aircraft entering service in 2012 with stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, highly-integrated avionics, electronics and fire-control systems).

These new platforms will be extremely expensive to fly and so it makes economic and training sense to download as much of the front-line functionality as possible to more economic advanced and basic training aircraft.

The traditional basic and advanced jet trainer designed in the 1970s – such as the Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros, Aermacchi MB-326, BAE Systems Hawk Mk50/60 series, CASA C-101Aviojet, Dassault/ Breguet Dornier Alphajet, Saab Sk-60, Soko G2 Galeb and PZL-Mielec TS-11 Iskra – were analogue-based with a random cockpit layout of conventional instruments, usually dominated by a central ‘T’ of primary flight instruments. They were designed to impart pure flying skills to students who would be required to fly demanding high performance 2nd and 3rd Generation analogue front-line aircraft such as the BAC Lightning, Dassault Breguet Mirage F1, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, Mikoyan/Gurevich Mig-21, Saab J35 Draken and Sukhoi Su-7. The progression from analogue advanced jet trainer was often to a front-line 2-seat trainer such as the Lightning T5 or the Mig-21U which acted as a Lead-in-Fighter Trainer (LIFT) as well as part of the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) and taught the student how to fly and to operate the single-seat front-line aircraft version. The logic for this straightforward type of training stream was based on the fact that on 2nd and 3rd Generation front-line jets, 50-80% of the pilot’s workload was focused on pure flying skills, depending on the type of aircraft, with the remaining 50-20% directed on information management skills.

Modern 4th Generation frontline jet combat aircraft such as Chengdu J-10, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 50 and Sukhoi Su-30 are now fitted with Head Up Displays (HUD) and glass cockpit technology; typically three Multifunction Head Down Displays (note that the US refer to certain advanced 4th Generation aircraft equipped with some 5th generation technology as ‘4.5 Generation’ or ‘4th Generation Plus’). With the advent of digital fly-by-wire flight controls and ‘care-free handling’, the pure flying skills required to fly these aircraft have been reduced but the management and division of attention skills required to operate the aircraft effectively have increased dramatically. So now 20-30% of the pilot’s workload is focused on pure flying skills with the remaining 70-80% on information management skills.

The development and unit costs of these front-line aircraft mean that there is usually no two-seat version for conversion training. Additionally it is expensive and time consuming to use these valuable aircraft for conversion training so glass cockpit training must be downloaded to lower cost Advanced and Basic Trainers as much as possible. This means that the Advanced Trainer’s cockpit should be able to closely mimic the feel and functionality of the front-line jet.

Key avionics products for modern glass cockpit training for front-line fast jet pilots consist of a combination of the following:

  • Head Up Display (HUD) with optional Helmet Mounted Display (HMD)
  • Up Front Control Panel (UFCP)
  • Two or three independent, switchable, Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) per cockpit
  • A Mission Computer (MC) and associated mission training software:

- Primary Flight Display (PFD)
- Engine Instrument Display (EID)
- Digital displays of Tactical Situation.
- Digital Mapping
- Stores Management System (SMS)
- No-Drop simulated weapon delivery
- Virtual radar
- Virtual defensive systems including chaff, flare and Radar Warning System


  • Rear seat HUD repeater for the instructor or the ability to display HUD repeater imagery on a rear seat MFD
  • UFCP for the rear cockpit
  • Independent Back-up Flight Instrument (BFI)
  • Hands on Throttle and Stick Switches (HOTAS)
  • Inertial Navigation System, ­integrated with GPS (INS/GPS)
  • Air Data Computer (ADC)
  • Digital Video and Data Recorder (DVDR)

Glass cockpit technology provides an improved training environment with the ability to train the student pilot in head-up flying and systems management techniques by day and by night and with Night Vision Goggles (NVG). The specific core skills and benefits which can be attained with a modern glass cockpit can be summarized as follows:

  • The use of MFDs, button presses, menu searches, selection and the use of appropriate displays.
  • The use of HUD (with potential HMD) and selection of appropriate modes using an Up Front Control Panel (UFCP). The rear-seat instructor will    usually monitor the HUD in a HUD repeater display.
  • Flight by reference to Angle of Attack and Velocity Vector (also known as a Flight Path Marker (FPM)).
  • Modern navigation techniques using INS and GPS.
  • Improved lookout, increased flight safety, especially during tactical low level flying.
  • Digital mission planning, mission recording and debriefing.

The glass cockpit also brings additional, more subtle, training advantages. A glass cockpit permits the flying instructor or weapons instructor to display progressively increasing amounts of data on the MFDs and the HUD in order to match the individual student’s stage of training and rate of progress. There is considerable flexibility in the amount of information that can be displayed, which is not the case with instruction in an analogue cockpit where ‘you get what you see’. This flexibility means that unsuitable students can be ‘washed out’ earlier in the flying training process and there is likely to be a slightly higher overall flying training pass rate. The use of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) and Computer Based Training (CBT) in the classroom enables the student to rehearse tomorrow’s sortie on a laptop simulation, similar to an advanced commercial PC aircraft simulation game. Technical manuals and student instructional précis can also be put on the CBT database which the student can refer to on his laptop computer.

The glass cockpit architecture will additionally allow the advanced training aircraft to undertake a large degree of digitally embedded synthetic mission training which can include the following functions:

  • Weapon aiming and delivery using computer generated aiming solutions and the use of HOTAS switches.
  • No-drop bombing simulation and automatic scoring with a reduction in the amount of live weapon drops and associated range costs.
  • Synthetic radar, virtual Electronic Warfare (EW) and Embedded Air Combat Manœuvering Instrumentation (EACMI).
  • Mimicry of the symbology and display formats found in front-line aircraft.

A key element of modern advanced training is that mission data, including HUD views, MFD displays and audio, should be recorded and played back to the student during instructor debriefing in the crew room at a Mission Planning and Debriefing Station (MPDS). Modern debriefing tools allow for the playback of the positions and attitudes of other aircraft which can be time-tagged to give simultaneous relative positions of aircraft.

The introduction of a data link in the Advanced Trainer will allow an instructor on the ground to monitor, in real-time, what is going on in the air. A data link can also provide a collision avoidance warning system among similarly equipped training aircraft.

Integrated glass cockpit technology, as described above, is suitable for installation in both new-build trainer programmes and for retrofit in appropriate analogue generation trainers.

Typical modern basic trainer programmes, suitable for training 4th generation pilots, include the Pilatus PC-9 and PC-21, the KAI KT-1C, the Grob 120TP and the HBC T-6B. Advanced jet trainers include the BAE Systems Hawk Mk128, the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle and the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master.

A number of analogue jet trainers, however, have considerable airframe fatigue life left in them and an avionics glass cockpit upgrade, coupled if necessary with a structural upgrade, can provide a low-cost solution for training 4th Generation fighter pilots at a fraction of the cost of a new advanced jet or turboprop trainer. Examples of such upgrades include the French and Belgian Air Force AlphaJet Plus upgrade for the AJeTS school at Cazaux, the BAE Systems Hawk Mk51 and Mk66 upgrades for the Finnish Air Force and the Northrop T-38C upgrade for the USAF.

Fifth Generation front-line aircraft will prove to be too expensive to train on. There is therefore a requirement for a Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT) to mimic 5th Generation Fast Jets such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) – neither have a two-seater training variant, and both types will prove exceedingly expensive to operate. Both Lead-in training and Squadron continuation training will have to be downloaded to a suitably equipped LIFT. This advanced training must include the use of wide touch-screen display technology and HUD/HMD displays found on the front-line aircraft. The training software must be able to mimic the HUD/HMD symbology and the handling characteristics of 5th generation aircraft with fidelity. Virtual training, mission debriefing tools and simulations can accurately replicate expensive advanced sensors and mission systems. For example, the requirement for an expensive and highly capable radar can be replaced, for training purposes, by computer-generated virtual radar, together with virtual defensive systems such as RWR, chaff and flares.

A 5th Generation fighter is designed to engage multiple adversaries. Thus it is wasteful in terms of training time and resources to practice 1vs2 air-to-air combat. Virtual Training Systems (VTS) will enable the LIFT student to engage, for instance, 12 virtual adversaries during a training mission at the cost of 1 hour’s flight time.

CMC’s next generation Cockpit-4000 (Cockpit-4000 NexGen) was unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow 2012. It utilizes a Digital HUD, replacing a conventional CRT with a digital light engine, and a 20x7 inch large area display touch screen, replicating the 5th Generation cockpit. The large area display can show multiple windows and includes synthetic vision. This, and other future LIFT glass cockpits, will not only help solve the 5th Generation training problem, but will allow front-line squadron pilots to remain in current operational readiness without using very expensive front-line aircraft.

Additionally some elements of the present advanced syllabus can be downloaded to Basic Trainers and the flow downwards can also include Primary Trainers. Thus a new generation of piston Primary Trainers is being introduced, equipped with a low-cost glass cockpit. It can be argued that there is no need for the future 5th Generation jet pilot to ever fly an analogue instrumented aircraft. The modern Basic Trainer can introduce the student to the HUD and also cover basic mission techniques such as air-to-air and air-to-ground tracking. The future fast-jet training flow for 5th Generation operators will probably appear as follows:

Primary Training:    Piston Glass Cockpit
Basic Training:    Turboprop/Jet Glass Cockpit
Advanced/LIFT:    Jet Glass Cockpit & VTS
Frontline:    5th Generation Glass Cockpit and LIFT

It is estimated that the cost per flying hour of a modern turboprop basic trainer is about US$500 per hour, an advanced jet trainer about US$2,000 per hour and a 4th Generation front-line aircraft about US$20,000 per hour. There is no clear indication of what the hourly operating costs of 5th Generation fighters will be, but it will certainly be a further increase in magnitude which illustrates clearly the necessity of downloading as much training as possible to the less costly platforms earlier on in the training cycle.

This will not be an entirely straightforward evolution as many of the students at Primary and Basic stages will be streamed off for multi-engine and helicopter training. The principles of glass cockpit flying that they will have learned in basic training will, of course, be of great benefit to them in the new generation of transports and helicopters equipped with glass cockpits.

In summary, training a modern fast-jet pilot training in an unrepresentative cockpit is wasteful in resources and the sooner that glass cockpit training can be downloaded in the training cycle the better. Integrated glass cockpit technology, together with the use of flight simulators, lowers the cost and increases the effectiveness of training the modern combat pilot. An integrated glass cockpit is suitable for installation in new-build trainers or for upgrades to existing analogue trainers. However, with the advent of 5th Generation aircraft, a new generation of Lead-in Fighter Trainers will be required. They must be able to mimic the handling, feel and mission systems of the front-line, as training flight time on the 5th Generation aircraft will be barely affordable. Similarly, as much of the present advanced training syllabus as possible should flow down to basic training in order to make the best economic use of valuable and dwindling assets.

Robert Wilsey FRAeS is a former Colonel in the UK Royal Marines and a qualified helicopter flying instructor who has experience in military basic and advanced flying instruction. He now works for Esterline CMC Electronics.
© FrontLine Defence 2013