Autocar grounds wannabe jet fighter pilots

More Top Gun than Top Gear – Colin Goodwin gets acquainted with the Eurofighter Typhoon

Car manufacturers are often all too keen to compare the cabins of their new vehicles with the cockpit of a jet fighter, but even if they have the Gloster Meteor in mind it appears such claims hold little water. An investigation by Autocar magazine has shown how ridiculous this oft-used assertion really is.

The world’s oldest motoring title worked with BAE Systems, maker of the Typhoon fighter jet, and asked genuine jet cockpit designers to rate the interior of a modern sports car, the Jaguar F-type roadster. The study, which can be read in detail here, found that while jet cockpits are designed with functionality and ergonomics in mind, in a car style takes preference, leaving the interiors of the two with virtually nothing in common.

The Typhoon’s cockpit features a dizzying array of panels, each featuring countless switches, knobs and buttons – some of them so far behind the pilot that they can’t be seen. A central joystick has 130 separate functions, while three screens in front of the pilot can each display a baffling amount of information.

Miles Turner, head of BAE Systems’ Typhoon Cockpit Group, said: “The primary controls or the most important ones are to the forefront of the cockpit and the less crucial ones are out of the way. The other key point is that we try to group functions together, such as communications and the radio controls. Because many of the controls are out of the pilot’s line of sight, he has to be able to identify them quickly and accurately by feel.”

The most obvious crossover between a jet fighter and a car is the head-up display (HUD), but Autocar found that the level of information displayed in a car (typically speed and time) bears no resemblance to the enormous amount of information in the Typhoon; target selection, interception details, speeds, times and a multitude of other data can be displayed, covering almost the whole HUD.

Autocar editor Chas Hallett said: “The modern car is getting more complicated, with manufacturers throwing more ‘infotainment’ features, such as apps and internet access, at drivers. We believe this causes far more accidents caused by eyes being inside the cabin rather than on the road than statistics show.

“If the level of equipment and functions fitted to cars continues to increase, car designers may have to place greater focus on ergonomics and function than on style.”

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