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Flying the Eurofighter and France's Rafale

Text by Apoorva PRASAD

Latest update : 2010-12-05

FRANCE 24 journalist Apoorva Prasad takes (simulated) flight in two of Europe's modern fighter planes in a cockpit comparison between the Eurofighter (pictured) and the Rafale.

"There it is, on your HUD, your ground target!"

A box encircled the nuclear power station, showing me the large cooling towers of the target. On the right hand colour display screen, a close up image of the plant appeared. The plane was in a shallow dive: I was flying closer and closer to the ground at a speed of more than 550 knots, my hands nervously holding the throttle and stick. They were both thick, black and felt solid as I gripped them. Dark fields on the ground rushed in. Green lines superimposed on the view in front of me showed me my angle of attack, my speed and altitude. The sky was clear but dark, the sun close to setting. 

A red flashing sign suddenly appeared on the right hand screen, a red box surrounding the word "pickle"!
I was flying the Eurofighter Typhoon, coached by Craig Penrise, lead test pilot for the aircraft.
"Pickle it!"
I thumbed the red button on my stick. A bomb dropped away from the plane. Immediately, gratefully, I pulled up on the stick, watching the power plant fly away directly under me.
"Level out. And ease back on the throttle."
I levelled out the wings and pulled back on the throttle, switching off the afterburners. The throttle grip came back with a solid thunk, and I saw my engine power reduce on the left LCD screen.
Then I flicked a switch, and the Heads-Up Display (HUD) changed to air-to-air combat mode. Immediately two triangles came up, and I looked down at the large central screen. It had a colour map of the area I was flying over, and lines radiating out of the centre. Two triangles popped up there too. There were two unknown aircraft far in the distance, beyond my visual range - or BVR.
"If I may say so, I helped design some of this," Penrise later explained, sweeping his hand over the futuristic cockpit. Three large LCD screens called Multi-Functional Displays (MFD) glowed at me as I lay back in the couch, with knobs and switches relegated to the sides.
The jet I had flown was the Eurofighter GMBH consortium's pilot-training simulator.
The Eurofighter has a highly advanced "man-machine interface". The cockpit is large, spacious and comfortable, and it feels very different from the cockpit of an F-16, Rafale, MiG-29 or Jaguar. But then, I belong to the joystick generation: I'm far more comfortable with buttons and screens than dials.
A day later, I flew the Dassault Rafale simulator under instruction by a test pilot and engineer. The Rafale's cockpit is tighter than the Eurofighter’s, but that doesn't mean that the Rafale, a slightly smaller plane, is less advanced technologically. The central MFD of the Eurofighter is replaced by a hooded Collimated to Infinity display. From the outside, it appears strange, but sitting inside the cockpit while flying, it all makes sense. The display seems to rise up to the pilot, so the pilot's eyes don't have to refocus from the horizon outside to the screens inside.
The MFDs on either side of the display are touch screens. As in the Eurofighter Typhoon, they're all interchangeable, in case of personal preference or battle damage. Both planes have something called Direct Voice Input, or DVI. Essentially, a pilot can change display information, radio frequencies, parameters and more, just by speaking to the plane. Yes, just like in the movie "Firefox".
In many of these planes, advanced sensors collate all the information available and present it comprehensively to the pilot. A sort of infrared camera (different companies call them different things) mounted on the nose of the plane can capture a close up image of an enemy aircraft flying far beyond visual range, presenting it to the pilot on one of the MFDs. Helmet-mounted sighting can allow a pilot to literally look over his shoulder, target a plane and fire a missile at it.
While sitting in the Rafale, I had flicked a switch under the throttle with my pinkie, activating the autopilot. Hands-On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) - or now, Voice Throttle and Stick (VTAS) - technically allows a pilot to complete a six-hour mission without ever lifting his hands off the throttle and joystick, because all the controls are placed on them.
The computers took over everything, adjusting my speed automatically. All I had to do was steer the plane gently towards the little crosshairs showing me the landing field. Moments before landing, I pulled up on the stick and touched down smoothly. Then I pushed down on both pedals to brake it to a stop.
Even I could land a modern fighter.
Photo courtesy of

Date created : 2010-12-01


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