Why The Boeing 787 Dreamliner Has A Head-Up Display

The 787 brought the best of Boeing’s expertise in aerospace together with some of the most cutting-edge technology available at the time. As well as the obvious improvements on the outside of the plane, the flight deck also got a high-tech makeover. One key change was the addition of two large-format head-up displays (HUDs) in the cockpit; but what are these for?

Head-up display HUD on the Boeing 787
The 787 features a large, dual head-up display. Photo: Getty Images

A plane full of improvements

The 787 was revolutionary in so many ways. Aside from the composite body, flexible wings and serrated engine nacelles, many of the improvements engineered for the Dreamliner remain somewhat invisible to the regular passenger.

Boeing set out to make the cockpit of the 787 the most comfortable, clean and simplified yet. The flight deck featured several new technologies, but still managed to maintain a high degree of commonality with the rest of the Boeing family, particularly the 777. This familiarity would allow pilots to retrain on the 787 in a short space of time, and allow easy mixed fleet flying for airlines.

One of Boeing’s design goals for the 787 was to allow it to fly point to point, to and from any runway, regardless of the technologies available at the airport. Even where there were no ground navigation aids, pilots should be able to navigate to the airport and position the aircraft correctly for a safe landing.

787 flight deck
The flight deck of the 787 was designed to be simple, clean and yet more high-tech. Photo: Boeing

To enable this, Boeing installed several features that gave flight crew more situational awareness. The first of these was global positioning systems (GPS) integrated with triple redundancy flight management systems. Much of this was built on the advanced navigational aids introduced on the 737 NG,  but other additions were new and unique to the Dreamliner.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

The Head-Up Display

One such brand new innovation was the installation of a new, large ‘head-up display’ (HUD) not just for the captain but for both pilots in the cockpit. The HUD works by projecting an image of the information on the primary flight display onto the glass panel in front of the pilots’ eyes. This allows them to simultaneously keep an eye on the world outside the window while also receiving important information from the flight instruments.

A picture shows the view of the cockpit
The Dreamliner’s HUDs are much larger than other models. Photo: Getty Images

The purpose of these HUDs is primary to improve safety. In all phases of flight, whether visibility is good or poor, pilots will be able to navigate effectively while also watching for other air traffic or the lights of a runway.

HEad up display 787
The screen displays information from the primary flight display. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Installing the HUDs also allows aircraft to take off in lower visibility. Integrating the navigation radios and flight management system with this technology enables the provision of takeoff runway centerline guidance, thereby reducing the visibility minimums for the aircraft to operate.

HUD Dreamliner
Having a HUD allows pilots to keep an eye on the outside while also receiving important data from the flight systems. Photo: Boeing

The HUDs on the Dreamliner were developed by Rockwell Collins Flight Dynamics as part of the display suite selected for the new Boeing aircraft. The large-format displays were a step up from all previous flight decks, and created a display area more than double the size of that on the 777.

Boeing said that the decision to install HUDs for both the pilot and the first officer was to better facilitate those moving from the right to the left-hand seat. For the pilots, the large display was a game-changer, particularly on approach, when they are often trying to scan the wing and nose position while also reading inputs from the primary flight display.

Have you ever seen the HUDs on a Dreamliner? Let us know in the comments.