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This is Not Your Grandpa’s Cockpit

May 17, 2024
Martin Kastenbaum

As a consultant with Sogeti as well as a Fellow of SogetiLabs, I’m exposed to cutting edge technology on almost a daily basis. The advancements in cloud computing, containerization, AI, quantum computing, etc., are moving at breakneck speeds. And my interests outside of consulting are not immune to these rapid changes.

I’m an instrument rated private pilot with about 500 hours of experience. When I obtained my private pilot certificate 30 years ago, technology had made very few inroads into general aviation, which encompasses all civilian aviation outside of commercial air transport (e.g. personal aircraft, corporate aircraft, etc.). Civilian use of GPS (Global Positioning System) was in its infancy and paper charts were still how we navigated along with the use of what were already antiquated navigation radios (e.g. VORs, NDBs, LORAN, etc.).

There has been a monumental digital transformation in the cockpit in the 30 years I have been a pilot. When I first started flying, there was a mountain of paper to keep up with. From navigation charts to flight plans to weather information to logbooks, everything was on paper. And much of that paper had a limited shelf life (i.e. chart expiration dates, outdated weather information, etc.). Nowadays, I fly with an iPad in the cockpit. Software like ForeFlight ™ or Garmin Pilot ™ allows me to plan my flight, obtain weather information, navigate, and log my flight. In addition, I can overlay live NEXRAD radar data and live ADS-B aircraft traffic data as well as receive traffic and terrain information and obstruction alerts. The enhancements to safety cannot be overstated. I have asked myself on many flights, “How did we manage before?”

Another significant transformation has been the move from the traditional round dials to “glass cockpit.” These old steam gauges, colloquially named for their resemblance to the gauges on old steam engines, were electrically or vacuum driven gyroscopes for maintaining attitude and direction. Today’s modern gyroscopes are solid state and much of the information is displayed on computer screens. These instruments provide a much higher degree of accuracy, reliability, and redundancy than the mechanically driven ones.

But possibly the biggest advancement is a technology that is so ubiquitous, it’s in almost every device we own, including our phones and watches. GPS. When I learned to fly, GPS was in its infancy and all navigation was via ground-based radio transmitters with corresponding radio receivers in the cockpit. NDBs (non-directional beacons) were first deployed in 1932. This system was subject to a myriad of adverse effects (e.g. night, terrain, thunderstorms, etc.). VORs (VHF omnidirectional range) were first deployed in 1946 and had many advantages over NDB. These ground-based navigation systems allowed aircraft to easily navigate from point to point and along with the ILS (instrument landing system), provided lateral and vertical guidance on an instrument approach for aircraft landing in less favorable weather conditions.

Today’s GPS navigation system provide many significant advantages over the old systems. The navigation information they provide is more accurate and reliable. GPS navigation is much easier by flying a route via a series of pre-defined waypoints (intersections in the sky) vs constantly having to tune in ground-based transmitter frequencies. In addition, because there are no ground-based transmitters needed, GPS routes and instrument approaches can be created easily and at very low cost. Many smaller airports were previously unable to provide ILS approaches due to the high cost of installation and maintenance and now can easily provide these services for arriving aircraft.

I look back at when I learned to fly and wonder how we did it? Obviously, we did, but the transformation of today’s cockpit provides additional levels of safety, convenience, and comfort that we couldn’t even dream of 30 years ago. I wonder what the next 30 will bring.

About the author

Martin Kastenbaum

Leader in Business Applications | United States
Martin Kastenbaum joined Sogeti in 2009 and very quickly established himself as a leader in the Business Application practice in Houston. For the past 5 years he has served as an enterprise architect on CSMART, a municipal case management system for The City of Houston and the largest project in Sogeti USA history.

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