For the first 50 years of computing, the input and output of a computer have been to different places. Mobile computing and the touch screen are quickly changing things though and the changes extend to the aircraft industry. At the 59th Annual Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Rockwell Collins has unveiled the first touch-control primary flight displays (PFD) for business jets and turboprop aircraft, which will be available on future applications of the company's Pro Line Fusion avionics system.

The icon-based, touch-controlled interface is designed to make the cockpit more user friendly and keep the pilot's eyes focused up and forward instead of down at the center console. A tap of the display brings up a context-sensitive menu that lets pilots change things such as the speed, altitude and heading of the aircraft with just a couple of taps. Through the icon-based graphical user interface, the pilot can also manage aircraft systems, complete checklists, and review the flightplan on a scrollable map, all without taking their eyes off the PFD.

Through gesture controls, pilots can also redirect the aircraft to a graphically displayed waypoint or destination with a swipe of a finger instead of entering information on a console-mounted keypad. Other gestures control panning and zoom features, while a physical keyboard is retained for alphanumeric input rather than an onscreen virtual keyboard that was decided would cover up too much important information.

With a couple of taps, the screen layout can also be split into two, three or four windows and the elements of the individual windows customized by dragging and dropping icons to provide a wealth of relevant flight information at a glance. Rockwell Collins says the user-friendly, icon-based graphical user interface also cuts the learning curve for pilots transitioning to a new aircraft type.

"These displays demonstrate our focus on empowering pilots with natural head-up, eyes-forward interfaces," said Colin Mahoney, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Rockwell Collins. "Touch-controlled, icon-based controls on the main displays help keep pilots' attention focused up and forward for safer and more efficient flying."

Rockwell Collins expects to receive certification for the touchscreen interface in 2013, after which it is slated to appear in cockpits featuring its Pro Line Fusion avionics suite.