What is the first airplane equipped with software system? Any type of avionics with the computer code, probably the compiled file.

I searched in Google, and it sounds like the F-8C Crusader jet fighter in 1972 from "Computers from Check In to the Flight Deck" article by Smithsonian. It is more like the complex controller system with large software package. I guess there would be the aircraft with the simpler avionics with compiled file before the F-8C. I am aware that NASA normally do research and test years before testing and deploying in the airplane, which put in the newspaper.

I have been seeing heated conversation on the definition of software system in the comment. I am sorry for somewhat vague in my question, In the question, the software would be a machine language, which could be an input to the instrument. I don't dictate compiled, non compiled, modifiable without hardware/electronics configuration nor fixed.

The reason behind my question was that I was wondered what was the first airplane with the instructed system by machine language instead of carefully configurated automatic system without code.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting question! The answer might be an autopilot, military communications, or even a bomb sight. I bet the date will be 1947-1950, not 1972. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @CamilleGoudeseune Please, share some source among your candidates or no record in the Internet but only in the library? $\endgroup$
    – Cloud Cho
    Commented Apr 12 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ First plane to fly using computers; because it was the same with (the answer below) range finding for battleships - the first computers, ever - were to shoot each other with, while you're moving in three dimensions and so are they. And also the fourth: time. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 13 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ First airplane with avionics software? "A rather primitive ILS was introduced in 1929 but became truly useful only after 1945." britannica.com/technology/history-of-flight/… $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 13 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura Thanks for the information about Instrument Landing System. Do you find the first aircraft with it? I searched, but it looks like the system is installed on ground not airplane (in 1938 to guide the Boeing 247-D centennialofflight.net/essay/Government_Role/landing_nav/…) $\endgroup$
    – Cloud Cho
    Commented Apr 15 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


A RAND report from 1982 suggests that the first digital computer in an aircraft was a fire control system on the F-102, quoting from page 1: "Among the earliest, if not the first, digital computers to fly was one in the MA-1 fire control system. It was developed in the early 1950s for the F-102 fighter to control the Falcon missile and folding fin rockets. A vacuum tube machine using subminiature tubes, it operated only at hundreds of operations per second."

This may not be strictly speaking, software, since it was written in machine code and not (as far as I can tell) programmable once it was installed, but I'd start there as an early marker and look for something in the 1950s.

A commenter notes below that my answer is not a response to the full question, which asks for "any type of avionics with the computer code..." For an answer to that, the OPs suggestion is the right one. NASA's modified F-8 is the first digital fly by wire controlled aircraft (see a NASA writeup here). Their suspicion that NASA would want to test this system before deploying it on an aircraft is also born out--the fly by wire system was adapted from the Apollo guidance computer, so by 1970 that had been tested in a pretty extreme environment a few times. ;)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for sharing the report. According to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_F-102_Delta_Dagger), it looks like the firing control system is called the MG-10 by Hughes (ausairpower.net/Falcon-Evolution.html#mozTocId995321) and deployed between 1952 and 1957 (fiddlersgreen.net/models/aircraft/Convair-F102.html) $\endgroup$
    – Cloud Cho
    Commented Apr 12 at 23:03
  • 19
    $\begingroup$ Why would something written in machine code not be software? It's still a set of instructions that tell the computer what to do, doesn't matter what language it was initially written in. Being read-only doesn't really change things either. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Mašek
    Commented Apr 13 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ It's also not [solid state] if it has vacuum tubes in it. Might have been the first airborne computer that had at least one integrated circuit in it, but that's not strictly speaking "digital". - This is also more like a frame challenge; "avionics" is in the question. You're talking about fire control, but at least that was the original reason to invent the computer in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 13 at 21:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DanMašek I think the "soft" in "software" is to indicate that it is possible to modify/replace the instructions without having to manually reconfigure any physical components of machine the code is running on. Whether the logic of this system meets that definition or not is unclear to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14 at 2:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Why would something written in machine code not be software?" I agree it's software, but I'm making this clear to the reader (of an aviation forum) so that someone who has a different answer (e.g. software written in a programming language) might feel that they can contribute a different answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14 at 3:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .