Monday, December 1, 2003

99 years and 350+ days


By Matthew Justice

I'm writing this on December 4, 2003. It's now time to celebrate the 100 years of "powered" flight and the accomplishments that the Wright brothers gave to aviation. Although, the fundamentals of powered flight, such as lift, drag, bank and roll have not changed the cockpit design has changed dramatically. Aviation and aviation technology has changed so dramatically in just the last 10 years, it hard for me to imagine where we will be in another 99 years.

It has been a common practice for aircraft to require 3+ pilots (operators) in the cockpit; this usually consisted of a Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer. As the years have passed, airspace congestion, security, and the overall demand for air travel have increased exponentially. With this being said, it is now common for larger and more complex aircraft (such as the Boeing 777) to be flown by only 2 pilots.

This is due largely to the automation of the cockpit and flight operations. Newer aircraft have onboard computers, advanced monitoring systems, moving maps, collision avoidance, electronic checklists and real-time weather. Aircraft are now flying throughout the world using traditional navigation systems coupled with GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology. As we move to the next phase of accuracy with GPS (better know in the flying world as WAAS), pilots will be able to navigate and fly approaches with GPS as their only means of navigation.

We have seen a growth in UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) being used for surveillance and combat, while being controlled by a pilot and a joystick hundreds of miles away. Many experts think this is the next step towards the single pilot (or no-pilot) cockpit. I've included a number of flight photos with this articles, and I'll kick them off with Figure A, a picture of the Global Hawk UAV.


Here's a view of the Global Hawk UAV. (click for larger image)

You can see a different view in Figure B.


Here's another view. (click for larger image)

Let's take a look inside the National Air and Space Museum at the Wright Flyer, in Figure C.


Take a look at the Wright Flyer. (click for larger image)

You can see a different view in Figure D.


Here's another view. (click for larger image)

Moving forward in time brings us the Spirit of St. Louis, also on display in the Smithsonian, and shown in Figure E.