Touchscreens are nothing new, at least in consumer electronics, but now this technology is finally beginning to appear in more business jet flight decks.
Of course, Garmin’s touchscreen controls populate many jets with G3000 and G5000 avionics suites, but until recently, aircraft manufacturers avoided touchscreens for uses other than controlling non-touch displays. This hasn’t been the case in the experimental aircraft market, where touchscreens abound.
Gulfstream is the first business jet manufacturer to adopt wider use of touchscreen technology with the new G500 and G600. While the Honeywell panel displays remain non-touch (Honeywell does make touch versions of these displays, but no OEM or aftermarket installer has selected these yet), the G500/G600 make extensive use of touchscreens for systems management.
On the overhead panel in the new Gulfstreams are three Esterline Korry touchscreen panels. These touchscreens replace the cornucopia of switches, knobs, and buttons that confound many a new Gulfstream pilot trying to memorize the layout when learning to fly models like the G450, G550, and G650. The neat thing about these touchscreens is that each pilot can manipulate the screens independently at the same time, which speeds up pre-takeoff processes considerably.
The other huge advantage of touchscreens is that engineers can easily make systems changes without having to find a place to mount a new button or control.
But touchscreen displays on the instrument panel have been slow to move into business jets. The two biggest reasons often heard are that such touchscreens are only for pilots flying “little” airplanes, and that business jet flight decks are set up such that the pilots are too far away to reach the panel. Turbulence is also mentioned as a potential issue with touchscreens.
We will soon find out if touchscreen panel displays become more acceptable in business jets because Nextant Aerospace and Collins Aerospace have received a supplemental type certificate for a touchscreen display avionics upgrade for the Challenger 604, part of Nextant’s 604XT package.
The Collins Pro Line Fusion touchscreen upgrade for the 604 is similar to the Fusion avionics system in new King Airs, which is also available as an aftermarket upgrade. Pilots haven’t been complaining about reaching the touchscreen displays in King Airs, and in any case, Collins engineers made it possible for pilots to manipulate the avionics with knobs and buttons as well, which eliminates the turbulence problem.
Touchscreens in aviation are here to stay, and it won’t be a surprise to see more business jet manufacturers adopt this technology, especially as younger tech-savvy pilots move up the flying food chain into more sophisticated aircraft.