We Used to Do What? A Look Back at Aviation Then and Now.

August 18, 2017 | Author: Adam Kress

Saturday, Aug. 19 marks the 79th annual National Aviation Day. President Theodore Roosevelt created the celebration of all things that fly in 1939, on the anniversary of Orville Wright’s birthday. Of course without the Wright brothers, flight as we know it wouldn’t be where it is today.

When they first took to the skies in the early 20th century, the Wrights laid the foundation for what would eventually become modern air travel. That first flight over the Outer Banks of North Carolina on the small, wooden aircraft only reached about 32 miles per hour in its short glide, but that’s all the brothers needed to make history.

To celebrate this year’s National Aviation Day, we are looking back at some of that history with a look at our favorite “then and now” images. From paper maps to mobile devices and integrated cockpits – aviation has come a long way since Roosevelt created National Aviation Day, and even farther still since that first flight in 1903. The Wright brothers would be proud.

Technology’s evolution

One of the first technologies to be integrated into flight was the autopilot function. The first autopilot controller in 1914 was invented by Honeywell legacy company, Sperry, and used a gyroscope to stabilize the airplane when hands were off the controls. The same fundamental technology exists today, and the vast majority of all commercial flight hours are flown using autopilot.



Looking at elements of an aircraft that have changed tremendously through the years, cockpits are right there at the top of the list. The cockpit on the left is a look at an older bi-plane. You’ll notice that it’s completely analog with dials, sliders and levers galore. Compare that with the image on the right. Cockpits now are sleek and integrated systems that run state-of-the-art technology across large, LCD screens. This cockpit on the right, the Gulfstream®Symmetry, even has Honeywell’s first touchscreen technology.



It’s not just the sleek screens and updated displays that make newer cockpits a stark contrast to older versions. Advancements in technology have allowed for the creation of navigational and safety tools that make flying a completely different experience for pilots. Consider this: As recently as the 1970s, pilots looking to land in a foggy environment saw a picture like the one on the left. Imagine trying to land safely when that was all you could see. Now, pilots get a clear view of the outside world -- no matter what the conditions -- with Honeywell’s SmartView synthetic vision system. Landing in the fog is just like landing on a sunny day.

Foggy Environment


Synthetic vision isn’t the only thing making landing easier for pilots. Before mobile technology, pilots had to rely on paper maps and experience to land at challenging or unfamiliar airports. Now, pilots have access to 3-D, simulated landings at airports around the world. Instead of reading a piece of paper and trying to learn a new landing from that, they can visualize the landing before ever approaching the airport.

Paper Map

3D Map

Once a pilot had landed, navigating to a gate can be a tricky task. Taxing at an airport can be a confusing experience of letters, call signs and numbers. To make sense of that, pilots have traditionally used the kinds of paper charts that you see on the left. Today, pilots have access to new technologies that tell them exactly where they are on the taxiways, no matter the weather or how busy the airport is.



Speaking of weather, it doesn’t matter if you’re on approach or cruising at 30,000 feet: Weather has long been an unknown variable for pilots. Inclement conditions can put strain on even the most experienced pilots, so having more information is always better. Radar technology has come a long way over the past 30 years. Before more advanced technologies, weather radar used to take an engineering degree just to understand how to use it effectively. The systems were relatively simple, and couldn’t tell you where hail, lightning or turbulence existed (left). With the first brand new design in more than 30 years, weather radar is now as simple as turning it on and getting the information pilots need to keep passengers safe. Honeywell’s IntuVue 3D weather radar (right) shows which storms have turbulence, hail, lightning and more.

Weather Radar

Weather Radar

Aside from onboard weather radar, pilots didn’t have much in the way of supplemental information to give them information farther along their flight path. In fact, weather information along a flight path has not traditionally been the most reliable, given the ever-changing nature of weather. Pilots have had to use paper charts they were given before takeoff to predict weather conditions hours later. However, with the advent of better connectivity and applications, pilots can see live weather along their entire flight path, like in Honeywell’s GoDirect Weather service.

Paper Chart

GoDirect Weather

We’ve laid out some of the bigger changes for pilots in the cockpit, but what about passengers? The biggest change for passengers (and many pilots) has been Internet connectivity. Many of the technologies mentioned above, in addition to new in-flight entertainment, hinges on high-speed connectivity on an aircraft. It may seem like we’ve had Wi-Fi on planes for a long time now, but that’s not the case. Twenty years ago, this image on the left was your entertainment on a flight. No social media, no shopping, no emails. Just a book and whatever you brought with you. That’s all changed now that high-speed, global in-flight Wi-Fi is the norm on flights. With service like GX Aviation, powered by Honeywell’s JetWave, passengers can take their connected life from the ground to the air.

Flight Entertainment

InFlight Connectivity

New technology is improving flight by leaps and bounds, and we’re able to do things on an aircraft that we’ve never done before. Much like the Wright brothers over 100 years ago, we are making the impossible, possible. There is nothing more exciting than that.

Adam Kress

Adam Kress

Sr. Manager, External Communications