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.