All glass cockpits seem to have the same basic setup for the primary instruments. Altitude tape on the right, air speed tape on the left, turn coordinator on top and an artificial horizon in the background. I can't find any good information on how the glass cockpit came to be and more specifically, how this layout was developed and adopted. I'm curious about:

  • Who developed the first glass cockpits?
  • Which planes first used these glass cockpits?
  • How was the current layout developed, were other layouts in use beforehand?
  • Was there any resistance or difficulty in getting these systems adopted amongst pilots or their companies?
  • $\begingroup$ I ran across this interesting paper while researching something else, it has some interesting info about the design considerations for electronic displays. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Jul 1, 2014 at 21:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ And why are they called glass cockpits? Even the old analogue dials all had glass covers on them. $\endgroup$
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 3, 2014 at 22:30

3 Answers 3


It depends on how you define "glass cockpit." Technology has progressed in steps to the modern "glass cockpits" of the latest aircraft.

Who developed the first glass cockpits?

The military appears to be the first place where electronic displays were used. First for specific uses like navigation or targeting scopes, and later gaining more functionality.

Which planes first used these glass cockpits?

The Blackburn Buccaneer was the first production aircraft with a HUD and entered service in 1963. The North American F-111D was equipped with a multifunction display and entered service in 1970.

The commercial side of the industry took a bit longer to adopt the technology.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 had a glass primary flight display and navigation display, and entered service in 1980.

Boeing started work on glass cockpits in the 1970s while developing the the Supersonic Transport (SST). While the SST never entered production, the work on glass cockpit technology was used in the design of the 767 and 757, entering service in 1982 and 1983, respectively. This was based on work with NASA, including testing on a 737 aircraft beginning in 1973.

The Airbus A310 entered service in 1983, and also used glass cockpit technology. The A320, entering service in 1988, was the first aircraft regarded as having a "full" glass cockpit, replacing traditional instruments for the primary flight instruments.

How was the current layout developed, were other layouts in use beforehand?

The first displays were generally dedicated to specific functions. For commercial aircraft, there was a primary flight display (PFD) showing the pitch and roll of the aircraft. There was also a second display for navigation which displayed the aircraft's heading.

As RedGrittyBrick points out, adding the speed and altitude to the PFD was natural due to their typical position on either side of the PFD. The use of the vertical "tape" format allows the same visual sense of direction as a round dial while taking up less space in the display.

Was there any resistance or difficulty in getting these systems adopted amongst pilots or their companies?

Although there was certainly a sense of caution with the introduction of new technology replacing the most important instruments in the cockpit, the benefits were enough to get the changes adopted. Here is a study from 1989, focusing on the "glass cockpit" in the 757. It covers the effect on the pilots and their opinions of the new technology.

The study shows that the pilots had an overall positive view of the new technology, since it reduced their workload and made tasks easier in many situations. However, the report also identified issues with crew members becoming "complacent" due to more automation, and some tasks actually became more difficult with the new systems. There is also the issue of training pilots on the complex new systems, and about what information should be hidden from pilots either during training or in operation of the aircraft. These types of discussions are certainly not going away, as is evidenced by recent events.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The first production airplane with a HUD, according to Wikipedia, was the Blackburn Buccaneer in 1958. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Jul 2, 2014 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @egid it looks like HUD already existed during WWII here on a P51D $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 28, 2019 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuH, that's a reflector sight, not a HUD. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Nov 13, 2019 at 19:02

I can't find any good information on ... how this layout was developed

The glass cockpit arrangement for the primary flight display copies the defacto standard analog instrument minimal T arrangement that pilots are/were used to.

Airspeed     Attitude   Altimeter        Airspeed       Attitude     Altimeter

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From Wikipedia


Electronic displays had been used extensively in military aircraft since the 1960s, but I believe NASA Langley with their Terminal Configured Vehicle program was most directly responsible for the initial research of electronic flight displays in commercial aircraft. Starting in 1973, they used a modified Boeing 737 to begin research into using computer displays on commercial aircraft.

Starting on page 36, this history of the 737 flying lab, goes into great detail of their research on electronic flight decks.


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