The Human Factor

Designed to help the pilot and aircraft communicate efficiently, the Eurofighter cockpit is the culmination of years of testing, valuable feedback from operational pilots and high end engineering.

Designed to help the pilot and aircraft communicate efficiently, the Eurofighter cockpit is the culmination of years of testing, valuable feedback from operational pilots and high end engineering. The result is a highly automated cockpit, one that gives pilots the correct information, at the moment it’s required, with the minimum of fuss.

The way the cockpit is designed is no accident. It represents clever consideration of all the human factors — allowing the human and machine to operate in harmony. The aircraft responds to voice, throttle and stick commands, that are instant and instinctive. Thanks to this, and coupled with the Eurofighter’s carefree handling, the flying element is relatively straightforward.

The real point of such intuitive prompting is that the pilot is freed up to concentrate on the main job — mission management. Instead of looking for a particular switch he is able to monitor the world around him and plan his next moves.

While there’s an expectation of a certain level of airmanship, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Eurofighter pilots are among the most highly trained in the world, the essence of the cockpit design is all about making the act of flying as natural as possible.

The most crucial interface is the Hand On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS). It does what it says on the label. The pilots use their hands and fingers to control the aircraft and engines. They have a number of options to select on the stick so, rather than prodding at the dashboard, the pilot makes mission-related selections quickly and instinctively.

There is a limiting factor of course, the pilot only has four fingers and a thumb on each hand! That said, there are more than 20 permutations available, allowing for intuitive defence or offence actions, like switching DASS modes, weapon systems and so on.

It's good to talk

There is however another way. Direct Voice Input (DVI) allows the pilot to manage systems and operational tasks. One of the Typhoon’s key cockpit systems, DVI gives the pilot speedy and easy voice control for aircraft systems such as radar, displays and navigation.

The idea is to help reduce the pilot’s workload but it is not used for any flight or weapons safety-related functions.

All the DVI functions are available by other means but, thanks to DVI, one simple word is converted into a command. The system has a vocabulary of more than 100 commands, meaning a pilot can do things and find out information without taking a hand off the HOTAS.

For anyone doubtful about the effectiveness of DVI because of issues trying to get a smartphone to understand basic commands, don’t worry. Each aircraft is ‘trained’ to recognise the voice of its particular pilot. Unlike smart phones that come with pre-embedded software that can only deal with a finite range of voices, dialects and accents, each Typhoon pilot has their voice recorded and that is plugged into the aircraft. Essentially the pilot’s voice is templated.

The system needs to be robust enough to cope with both the noisy in-flight environment and the high-G stresses, which can affect the pilot’s voice and speech.

DVI can be used for a number of tactical tasks, including the following:

  • Displaying information
  • Selecting the radio
  • Navigation route tasks
  • Identifying Friend or Foe
  • Controlling sensors
  • Requesting fuel status

It’s not just a case of the pilot talking to the aircraft. By coupling the DVI system with the warning system voice outputs, the pilot can simply ask for fuel-state and bearing to base, and the cockpit voice will respond.

In addition to the pilot giving voice commands, the aircraft provides safety related warnings to the pilot by voice. These include high or low airspeed and ground proximity warnings. 

There are a series of subset commands under each top level command. The following examples are top level commands. When the system recognises a command it ‘listens’ for the next level command in its vocabulary.

Head Up Display (HUD)

An angled semi-reflective screen that sits directly in the pilot’s eyeline through the forward canopy, the HUD gives the pilot flight critical data. Everything from basic information such as aircraft altitude, velocity, heading, weapons mode, right through to specific targeting and systems information is available to the pilot.

Head Down Displays (HDD)

Three full colour multi-function head down displays are used for presenting the overall tactical situation, the attack situation, attack formats, map displays and air traffic procedures, in addition to system status and checklists. There’s a standard default set-up for each monitor giving the current mission status but pilots can configure each display to show the information they prefer. Surrounding each display are a number of soft touch programmable function buttons enabling access to different display configurations and systems.

Voice, Throttle and Stick (VTAS)

The combination of (DVI) and (HOTAS) is what’s now known as VTAS or Voice, Throttle and Stick. It’s this intuitive mix of ingredients that enables a single pilot to control operations, even in the most demanding of scenarios.

The pilot controls the mission making inputs via his hands and voice and is given feedback from the aircraft through his eyes and ears. While VTAS is the primary input into the aircraft, the primary output back to the pilot comes from the Head Up Display (HUD) and the Head Down Displays (HDD).

Warning Panel

On the right hand side of the cockpit there’s a warning panel which flashes a colour-coded alert and pilots also get an audio warning which activates if something is amiss.

Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS)

Eurofighter Typhoon uses a unique Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) which provides flight reference and weapon data aiming through the visor. It is fully compatible with night vision aids using light intensification and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) imagery. It offers pilots a significant competitive advantage. The helmet is composed of an outer helmet, inner helmet, optics blast/display visor, oxygen mask, night vision enhancement camera and head position tracking system.

Some examples of cockpit commands:

PIGEONS Requests the range and bearing to the next waypoint
SQUAWK Prepares system for various IFF commands
RADIO Prepares system for various radio commands
CONTENTS Requests current fuel state
DEST Prepares system for a change of destination