Nowadays, avionics has evolved a lot since the beginning of aviation and is trying to keep up with the technology around us, although it is subjected to much stricter regulations.
World War I brought an urgent need for communications. Voice communications from ground to air and from aircraft to aircraft were established. Also, more instruments were brought to the cockpit of commercial aircraft in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. In the 1930s, the first all radio-controlled blind-landing was accomplished and the instrument navigation certification for airline pilots began. Due to a lack of accuracy in bad weather, low and medium-frequency radio waves were changed to high-frequency ones. In the 1940s the very high-frequency omni-directional range (VOR) navigational network was instituted. Around this time the transistor was developed and solid-state radio development started. In the 1970s, also GPS and LORAN were introduced.
Due to the high number of avionics inside the cockpit, military airplanes started to be equipped with digital avionics in the late 1960 and 1970s. Prior to the 1970s, air transport operations were not considered sufficiently demanding to require advanced equipment like electronic flight displays. Also, computer technology was not at a level where sufficiently light and powerful electronics were available. At the beginning of the glass cockpit era, aircraft were equipped with cathode ray tube displays. NASA conducted research on displays that could process the raw aircraft system and flight data into an integrated, easily understood picture of the flight situation, culminating in a series of flights demonstrating a full glass cockpit system.
By the end of the 1990s, liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels were increasingly favored among aircraft manufacturers because of their efficiency, reliability, and legibility. Earlier, LCD panels suffered of poor legibility at some viewing angles and poor response times, making them unsuitable for aviation.
The glass cockpit has become standard equipment in airliners, business jets, and military aircraft. In the 21st century, aircraft manufacturers started to take more and more advantage of the LCD display in order to display 3D images of the terrain or to show camera recordings from the cameras mounted around the aircraft.
Aircraft like Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 uses bigger displays, keyboards and touchpads because pilots are more used to them since we are now all using these tools at home. In 2019 Airbus presented all-new instruments displays that are also a touchscreen. Avionics is evolving faster than other parts of the airplane and today, the classic FMC (flight management computer) is now shown on a display in the lower part of the instrument panel, maps are uploaded on a tablet or in the aircraft’s computer, and are displayed on an LCD, fly-by-wire technology is commonly used in the industry, head-up displays help the pilots to access basic information while checking the surroundings, and the cockpit is designed more intuitively. Moreover, voice control of non-core functions is also starting to appear inside the cockpit, and Helmet Mounted Displays help the pilot to know where the enemy is at all times.
To sum up, avionics systems have been continuously evolving for more than a century. While the flight performance of aircraft has reached limits in some areas and just minor changes may be introduced into service, avionics is undoubtedly the part of each aircraft that has undergone the largest change. New concepts such as Virtual and Augmented reality are under evaluation. With the increasing importance of virtual reality in other areas of industry and in life in general, it is more than certain that this is the future of avionics. Although the touch screens are ready to take over the classic instruments, a standard knob will be easier to be found in emergency circumstances like the presence of smoke in the cabin, because those can have different dimensions or shapes.