Aviation has evolved from simple planes made out of paper and wood to modern airliners that can carry up to 800 people, with a range of 8200nm, at speeds of up to 450 knots (833 km/h) whilst cruising at 36000ft above the Earth. Computers were, amongst other things, major contributors to this gigantic evolution: they were used for designing efficient aircraft with new aerodynamic properties suitable for special roles but are also used to 'fly' the larger jet airliner aircraft, calculate cruising altitudes, speeds, weights, efficiency as well as many other things.
Computers are used for 'simulation flying' where pilots can practice their emergency skills, checklists, operations etc. It is possible for a pilot to have 'zero flight time' in real life: 100% of his flying has been on simulators and has never flown in real life until his/her first commercial flight. This means that pilots do not have to fly in a 'real' aircraft to learn how to fly, which is both safer for people and is much more ecological as a simulator does not run on kerosene. Looking at the commercial side of aviation, computers have allowed an uncontrolled boom in air travel. It is now simpler than ever to book a ticket to almost any part of the world through a click of a mouse in your home. This has created a, sort of, 'global network', where anyone can choose where to fly.
The major area for computers to conquer was the design of aircraft, though many aircraft designers disagree on how much control should remain with the pilot and how much should be given to a computer. Designing a plane is an immensely complex job involving thousands of engineers and ultimately hundreds of thousands of pages of blueprint. In 1980's, Boeing decided to build a new large passenger jet and the program's managers made a fundamental and drastic decision to design the plane entirely on computers, without using traditional paper designs. The result was the Boeing 777, which first flew in 1994 which is referred to as “the first 21st Century Jet.”
There are many uses of modern computing equipment on board in aircrafts today which simplify a pilot's job and have contributed to change a traditional pilot's role.
· Autopilots use computers to fly a plane enroute to the destination on the correct course and at the correct altitude.
· Automatic landing systems use computers that can fly an approach to an airport, land the plane, and taxi off the runway.
· Glass cockpits consist of computer monitors that have replaced most of the mechanical flight indicators used in earlier airlines. The monitors can display a wide range of information including engine performance, fuel levels in the various tanks, the route to the destination, etc.
· Fly-by-wire aircraft control systems are now being used in Airbus Industries and Boeing planes. Three computers crosscheck each other. If one of the three is not in agreement with the other two computers, it is automatically removed from the control system. These systems take input from the pilot and copilot controls in the cockpit and send electrical signals to motors on the wings and in the tail to move the control surfaces. This eliminates the need to run hydraulic lines to the ailerons, rudder, and elevator.
· Air traffic control centers use computers to display aircraft paths across the country. Information boxes can be displayed beside the flight path of each airplane that show the direction, flight number, and other data.