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Boeing selects iPad-like touch screens for 777X flightdeck

Future Boeing 777X airline pilots will be able to interact with their flight information displays in the same way that they use their smart phones and tablets.

Boeing has decided to integrate a multi-touch interface on the flight deck of the re-engined widebody due to enter service in 2020, replacing a touch-pad based cursor control device (CCDs) mounted on the aisle-stand of the original 777, says Bob Feldmann, vice-president and general manager of the 777X programme.

The decision was made so recently that Boeing is not yet able to announce the supplier, as the contract had not been signed as of mid-June, Feldmann says.

The new technology will be integrated as Boeing transitions from a standard layout of six displays in the 777 cockpit to the 787’s five-display format in the 777X.

“We think we’re the first [commercial] airplane to really make something that is like all our customers are used to doing in their daily lives,” Feldmann says.

In the past, Boeing has proposed a touch-screen display as an upgrade for the US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, but not for commercial airliners despite their growing appeal.

Multi-touch interfaces have been popularised in consumer electronics for several years, allowing users to use their fingers to make commands, as well as pinch-to-zoom or use other gesture-based features. Airline pilots have access to tablet-based electronic flight bags with touch screens, but the navigation and flight information displays in even the newest and most modern aircraft types are still controlled using CCDs or bevel switches.

In discussions with the 777X customers, Boeing received a clear preference for making the transition to multi-touch screens, Feldmann says.

“They all want to go forward to a future with what they use to control their iPhone, their iPad they have that kind of capability — meaning touch capability — in the crew station of the airplane,” he says.

In turbulent conditions, pilots will be able to stabilise their hands on beveled borders around the displays, allowing them to use their free fingers to navigate the displays, Feldmann says. Although several avionics suppliers, including Rockwell Collins and Honeywell, are experimenting with voice activation, Boeing is not integrating that feature in the 777X cockpit, he adds.

The next milestone for the 777-9 development programme is a critical design review scheduled earlier next year. Production of the first test aircraft is expected to begin next June, with first flight following in 2018.

Cockpit touch screens are one of several key technologies Boeing is developing for the 777X. The most visible innovation on the 777X is perhaps Boeing’s plan to integrate folding wingtips, a feature normally found on fighters based on space-constrained aircraft carriers.

Boeing plans to perform the first test on a full-scale 777X wingtip actuation system later this summer, Feldmann says.

“All the configuring is done to a very detailed level. We know exactly what this airplane is and in fact we have very detailed discusions with our customers and with our suppliers,” Feldmann says.

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