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Digital Display Indicators

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Another also-ran, Bendix Teterboro, was selected for the head-down displays (called Digital Display Indicators on the F-20). Bendix had been a leading supplier of conventional round-dial instruments for aircraft going back to World War I. They had provided the cabin pressure altimeter for the F-5E (adapted from a B-58 instrument). Their records were so comprehensive that at the time of the YF-17 selection they were involved in trying to identify whether certain instruments found in the Pacific might have come from Amelia Earhart's lost Lockheed Vega. But the writing was on the wall. The last generation of fighters (F-16, F-18) had abandoned the 'non-critical' round-dial instruments in favor of electronic displays. The next generation (F-20, F-16C) would eliminate the analogue gauges entirely with only a couple of 'round dials' as back-ups in case of total electrical system failure. Bendix had to break into the aircraft electronic display market or leave the aircraft instrument business entirely.

The electronic displays could be programmed so as to display different information in different ways according to the phase of flight. They could serve as radar displays, moving map displays, or replace conventional instruments such as artificial horizons or engine gauges with electronic equivalents. The screens were surrounded by strips of buttons, which would have a different function depending on the display mode, the purpose of the button being displayed on the screen next to it. They even had a mouse function, using a conical 'Chinese hat'on the pilot's stick, which cold move a cursor around the screen to designate a target, update a navigational waypoint, or select a menu item. These first aircraft screens were monochrome green raster displays, the only type at the time that was bright enough to be visible in daylight. Some US vendors had the first prototype color liquid crystal displays barely working in their labs (a technology in which they lagged years behind Japan and would soon give up entirely).

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