Colin Goodwin gets acquainted with the Eurofighter Typhoon's cockpit
Goodwin gets the lowdown on the Typhoon’s layout from Turner and Chesham
The Typhoon's cockpit is snug but not uncomfortable to sit in
Head-up display conveys more information than the average sports car
It's vital that all controls fall conveniently to hand in a supersonic fighter jet
Three full-colour multi-function screens dominate the Typhoon's cockpit
Some of the controls are sited out of the pilot's line of sight
The Typhoon fighter jet can also be operated via voice commands
The Typhoon's instrumentation looks a baffling array, but it’s all grouped by function
The Typhoon has a host of systems to prevent the pilot from losing control
Buttons and switches have distinct shapes to enable rapid recognition
A team of 28 experts are responsible for refining the fighter's cockpit
The Typhoon’s interior is continually being upgraded and improved
Typhoon's joystick alone has 130 separate functions
More functions have been added to the joystick as the Typhoon has evolved
Goodwin searches for the switches to operate the Typhoons weapons
Goodwin shows Turner and Chesham around the F-type's cabin
Fighter jet experts can't see much of a similarity with their plane's cockpit
The Typhoon doesn't benefit from the F-type's wind-in-the-hair sensation
There's little need for an altitude read-out in the Jaguar F-type
Jaguar's gearshift doesn't control as many functions as the Typhoon's joystick
The Jaguar's cabin puts more of an emphasis on creature comforts
The Jaguar F-type is more accessible to enthusiasts than the Typhoon
How many times have you read a manufacturer describe the cabin of its new car as being “inspired by a fighter jet cockpit”? Virtually all sports car makers have trotted out that phrase at one time or another.
It’s a good marketing line, but what is actually meant by it? Does it mean that, to use the dreadful cliché, the controls fall readily to hand? That all the important instruments are in line of sight? Or what? Well, it’s time to put a cap on this nonsense.
I decide I will ring BAE Systems, maker of the Typhoon fighter, and ask if I can speak with the people who actually design fighter cockpits. Better still, perhaps I could bring a modern sports car for them to have a look at and get them to judge it for fighter cockpit-ness.
And so a couple of weeks later – thanks to the miraculous organisational skills of BAE PR man David Coates – photographer Stan Papior and I are thrashing up the M6 to BAE System’s Warton factory near Preston in a Jaguar F-type roadster. This is going to be a very good day out.
Head of the cockpit group is 49-year-old Miles Turner, who has been with BAE since leaving school but has been leading the cockpit team for the past three years. With him is colleague Paul Chesham, who’s 40 years old and studied aeronautical engineering at Loughborough and followed that up with an MSc in ergonomics.
To my amazement, the large open-plan office in which we meet Turner and Chesham is devoted to cockpit design, because the Typhoon’s interior is continually being upgraded and improved by the 28 boffins in the team.
We’re not able to sit in a real Typhoon cockpit, but we do have a Typhoon simulator and a mock-up cockpit that Turner and his colleagues use as a day-to-day tool. In the simulator, everything works as it does in the real aircraft.
Dear God, it looks complicated. In front of me are three screens, each surrounded by unmarked buttons. Between my legs is a joystick that’s bristling with buttons and switches. “The joystick,” explains Chesham, “has 130 separate functions. It didn’t have that many on the first Typhoons, but we’ve kept adding to it.”
The cockpit is snug but not uncomfortable. To each side of me, there’s a long panel containing switches and buttons which stretches behind my back so that I can’t even see some of the controls.
“The idea is that the primary controls or the most important ones are to the forefront and the less crucial ones are out of the way,” explains Turner. “The other key point is that we try to group functions together, such as communications and the radio controls.” Sure enough, I can vaguely recognise knobs and switches that work the radios.
Many of the switches and knobs have designs that look influenced more by Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts and Dolly Mixture than aviation’s history. “Because many of the controls are out of the pilot’s line of sight,” explains Chesham, “he has to be able to identify them quickly and accurately by feel.”
The three screens can each display a baffling amount of information, with the choice of which of them displays what being variable; for example, you could put information about the engines’ performance on any of the three screens.
The pilot can scroll across all the displays using a cursor controlled by a ‘coolie hat’ switch on the joystick. Turner and Chesham explain that flying the Typhoon is actually pretty straightforward. The tricky bit is operating all of the systems, and making this easier for the pilot is what their job is all about.
The most obvious crossover between a fighter jet and a car is the head-up display, or HUD. The only difference is that in a car, you get speed, time and perhaps directions to the local chippy, whereas in the Typhoon, you’re presented with a huge amount of information spread across virtually the whole windscreen.
Target selection, interception details, speeds, times and a multitude of information can be displayed. Now I am beginning to understand why the selection process for fast jet pilots is so rigorous and why so few make the grade.
Time for Turner and Chesham to have a sit in our F-type. By chance, the week before coming up to Warton, I’d met Jaguar design boss Ian Callum and told him what we were up to. “Has the design of fighter cockpits influenced your work?” I asked.
“No, but some of my designers talk about it,” Callum said. “But the switch that selects the driving mode in the F-type is the same design as the one in the Typhoon that selects ‘economy’ mode.”
A nice fit, but unfortunately it’s news to Turner and Chesham, because there is no such switch on the Typhoon. “The obvious difference between a car and a combat aircraft,” says Turner, “is that in a car, style takes preference over function. For us, it’s all about function and ergonomics.”
Both men agree that although the Jaguar’s cockpit looks great, it has virtually nothing in common with a fighter jet’s. And I’d lay money on them saying the same thing about the cabin of any other sports car.
There’s an interesting point to be made here: the modern car is getting more complicated, with manufacturers throwing more ‘infotainment’ features such as apps and internet access at drivers in what, I suspect, is an attempt to woo younger buyers. It is illegal to hold a phone handset to the ear but not to operate more and more complicated systems while on the move.
I suspect that today, there are far more accidents caused by eyes being inside the cabin rather than on the road than current statistics show.
If the level of equipment and functions fitted to cars continues to increase, I reckon car interior designers will have to place a greater focus on ergonomics and function than on style. Mind you, there’s nothing unsexy about the Typhoon’s cockpit.
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