The cockpit for each type of airplane is different, with controls that provide information about the turbine and radial airplane engines, the landing gear, the wings and many other items the pilot must monitor during flight, takeoff, and landing. Large commercial jets have hundreds of controls in the cockpit, while small planes may have only a few.
Basic Cockpit Features
Basic cockpit features for most planes include seats for the pilot, the cockpit enclosure, and the flight deck. Whether the craft has a turbine or radial airplane engine, the cockpit enclosure is the typical layout for an aircraft, and most planes have similar enclosures with a windshield, seats and a control panel. The number of seats depends on the size of the plane, although even in most small plans the cockpit has two seats. In larger jets, there may be a jump seat used by observers or another member of the flight crew. The flight deck includes the many displays and controls used for flying the aircraft. Again, depending on the size of the plane, there may be storage compartments, fire extinguishers, and other items included in the cockpit.
The Flight Deck
Planes offer a flight deck with many components. The control column includes the yoke, which is positioned directly in front of each pilot. The yoke is used to control pitch (up and down movements) and roll (left and right movements). The rudder pedals are on the floor, much like gas and brake pedals are on the floor of a vehicle. The pedals control yaw, which are right/left movements while flying and to steer the aircraft while it is on the ground.
The instrument panel contains all the displays regarding the aircraft’s status during flight. If the turbine or radial plane engine develops a problem inflight, the instrument panel alerts the pilot so adjustments can be made. The pedestal, often found between the pilots, contains the throttle and other controls. In some planes, there are side controls and an overhead panel that are not directly involved in flying, such as air conditioning, cabin pressurization, and communication instruments.
There are many instruments used when flying both turbine and radial engine planes, and the instruments found on each plane vary. However, there are some instruments found in the cockpit of all planes. The altimeter shows the aircraft’s position above sea-level using atmospheric pressure readings outside the plane. The altimeter can be adjusted for local barometric pressure to ensure accurate readings. The attitude indicator shows the aircraft’s attitude in relation to the horizon. This lets the pilot know if the wings are level and if the nose of the airplane is pointing above or below the horizon. The attitude indicator is a critical instrument during flight, but pilots are trained to use other instruments as well should the attitude indicator fail. The airspeed indicator is similar to the speedometer in a vehicle as it shows the speed of the aircraft. The magnetic compass shows the aircraft’s heading relative to magnetic north, and is used in conjunction with the heading indicator. The heading indicator, which also displays the aircraft’s heading in relation to magnetic north, but is subject to drift errors, so pilots use a combination of the two instruments. The vertical speed indicator is also known as the rate of climb indicator, lets the pilot know the rate of climb or descent in feet per minute.