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Cockpit of an Airbus A319 during landing
Cockpit of an IndiGo A320

A cockpit or flight deck is the area, usually near the front of an aircraft or spacecraft, from which a pilot controls the aircraft.


Cockpit of an Antonov An-124 Polet Antonov An-124-100 cockpit Petrov.jpg
Cockpit of an Antonov An-124
Cockpit of an A380. Most Airbus cockpits are glass cockpits featuring fly-by-wire technology. Airbus A380 cockpit.jpg
Cockpit of an A380. Most Airbus cockpits are glass cockpits featuring fly-by-wire technology.
Swiss HB-IZX Saab 2000 during flight Swiss Saab 2000 Cockpit.jpg
Swiss HB-IZX Saab 2000 during flight
Robin DR400 Robin.dr400slash500.g-rndd.arp.jpg
Robin DR400
1936 de Havilland Hornet Moth Hornet moth dh87b g-adne arp.jpg
1936 de Havilland Hornet Moth
Cockpit of Cessna 182D Skylane Cessna 182D Skylane Cockpit.jpg
Cockpit of Cessna 182D Skylane
View of a Cockpit seen from outside (Boeing 747-400) Boeing 747-400 (British Airways).jpg
View of a Cockpit seen from outside (Boeing 747-400)

The cockpit of an aircraft contains flight instruments on an instrument panel, and the controls that enable the pilot to fly the aircraft. In most airliners, a door separates the cockpit from the aircraft cabin. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, all major airlines fortified their cockpits against access by hijackers. [1] [2]


The word cockpit seems to have been used as a nautical term in the 17th century, without reference to cock fighting. It referred to an area in the rear of a ship where the cockswain's station was located, the cockswain being the pilot of a smaller "boat" that could be dispatched from the ship to board another ship or to bring people ashore. The word "cockswain" in turn derives from the old English terms for "boat-servant" (coque is the French word for "shell"; and swain was old English for boy or servant). [3] The midshipmen and master's mates were later berthed in the cockpit, and it served as the action station for the ship's surgeon and his mates during battle. Thus by the 18th century, "cockpit" had come to designate an area in the rear lower deck of a warship where the wounded were taken. The same term later came to designate the place from which a sailing vessel is steered, because it is also located in the rear, and is often in a well or "pit". [4] [5] [6]

However, a convergent etymology does involve reference to cock fighting. According to the Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, the buildings in London where the king's cabinet worked (the Treasury and the Privy Council) were called the "Cockpit" because they were built on the site of a theater called The Cockpit (torn down in 1635), which itself was built in the place where a "cockpit" for cock-fighting had once stood prior to the 1580s. Thus the word Cockpit came to mean a control center. [7]

The original meaning of "cockpit", first attested in the 1580s, is "a pit for fighting cocks", referring to the place where cockfights were held. This meaning no doubt influenced both lines of evolution of the term, since a cockpit in this sense was a tight enclosure where a great deal of stress or tension would occur. [5]

From about 1935, [8] [ citation needed ]cockpit came to be used informally to refer to the driver's cabin, especially in high performance cars, [9] and this is official terminology used to describe the compartment [10] that the driver occupies in a Formula One [11] car.

In an airliner, the cockpit is usually referred to as the flight deck, the term deriving from its use by the RAF for the separate, upper platform in large flying boats where the pilot and co-pilot sat. [12] [ clarification needed ] [13] [ clarification needed ] In the US and many other countries, however, the term cockpit is also used for airliners. [2]

The seat of a powerboat racing craft is also referred to as the cockpit. [14]


The first airplane with an enclosed cabin appeared in 1912 on the Avro Type F; however, during the early 1920s there were many passenger aircraft in which the crew remained open to the air while the passengers sat in a cabin. Military biplanes and the first single-engined fighters and attack aircraft also had open cockpits, some as late as the Second World War when enclosed cockpits became the norm.

The largest impediment to having closed cabins was the material used to make the windows. Prior to Perspex becoming available in 1933, windows were either safety glass, which was heavy, or cellulose nitrate (i.e.: guncotton), which yellowed quickly and was extremely flammable. In the mid-1920s many aircraft manufacturers began using enclosed cockpits for the first time. Early airplanes with closed cockpits include the 1924 Fokker F.VII, the 1926 German Junkers W 34 transport, the 1926 Ford Trimotor, the 1927 Lockheed Vega, the Spirit of St. Louis and the passenger aircraft manufactured by the Douglas and Boeing companies during the mid-1930s. Open-cockpit airplanes were almost extinct by the mid-1950s, with the exception of training planes, crop-dusters and homebuilt aircraft designs.

Cockpit windows may be equipped with a sun shield. Most cockpits have windows that can be opened when the aircraft is on the ground. Nearly all glass windows in large aircraft have an anti-reflective coating, and an internal heating element to melt ice. Smaller aircraft may be equipped with a transparent aircraft canopy.

In most cockpits the pilot's control column or joystick is located centrally (centre stick), although in some military fast jets the side-stick is located on the right hand side. In some commercial airliners (i.e.: Airbus—which features the glass cockpit concept) both pilots use a side-stick located on the outboard side, so Captain's side-stick on the left and First-officer's seat on the right.

Except for some helicopters, the right seat in the cockpit of an aircraft is the seat used by the co-pilot. The captain or pilot in command sits in the left seat, so that they can operate the throttles and other pedestal instruments with their right hand. The tradition has been maintained to this day, with the co-pilot on the right hand side. [15]

The layout of the cockpit, especially in the military fast jet, has undergone standardisation, both within and between aircraft, manufacturers and even nations. An important development was the "Basic Six" pattern, later the "Basic T", developed from 1937 onwards by the Royal Air Force, designed to optimise pilot instrument scanning.

Ergonomics and Human Factors concerns are important in the design of modern cockpits. The layout and function of cockpit displays controls are designed to increase pilot situation awareness without causing information overload. In the past, many cockpits, especially in fighter aircraft, limited the size of the pilots that could fit into them. Now, cockpits are being designed to accommodate from the 1st percentile female physical size to the 99th percentile male size.

In the design of the cockpit in a military fast jet, the traditional "knobs and dials" associated with the cockpit are mainly absent. Instrument panels are now almost wholly replaced by electronic displays, which are themselves often re-configurable to save space. While some hard-wired dedicated switches must still be used for reasons of integrity and safety, many traditional controls are replaced by multi-function re-configurable controls or so-called "soft keys". Controls are incorporated onto the stick and throttle to enable the pilot to maintain a head-up and eyes-out position – the Hands On Throttle And Stick or HOTAS concept,. These controls may be then further augmented by control media such as head pointing with a Helmet Mounted Sighting System or Direct voice input (DVI). Advances in auditory displays allow for Direct Voice Output of aircraft status information and for the spatial localisation of warning sounds for improved monitoring of aircraft systems.

The layout of control panels in modern airliners has become largely unified across the industry. The majority of the systems-related controls (such as electrical, fuel, hydraulics and pressurization) for example, are usually located in the ceiling on an overhead panel. Radios are generally placed on a panel between the pilot's seats known as the pedestal. Automatic flight controls such as the autopilot are usually placed just below the windscreen and above the main instrument panel on the glareshield. A central concept in the design of the cockpit is the Design Eye Position or "DEP", from which point all displays should be visible.

Most modern cockpits will also include some kind of integrated warning system.

In a 2013 comparative study of a number of novel methods for cockpit-user interaction, touchscreen produced the largest number of "best scores". [16]

Flight instruments

USAF and IAF airmen work inside the cockpit of an IAF Ilyushin Il-76. Indian Air Force IL-76 cockpit.JPG
USAF and IAF airmen work inside the cockpit of an IAF Ilyushin Il-76.
Vickers VC10 cockpit of the 1960s VC10FlightDeck.jpg
Vickers VC10 cockpit of the 1960s
A later analogue cockpit (1970s) of a Hawker Siddeley Trident airliner TridentFlightDeck.JPG
A later analogue cockpit (1970s) of a Hawker Siddeley Trident airliner

In the modern electronic cockpit, the electronic flight instruments usually regarded as essential are MFD, PFD, ND, EICAS, FMS/CDU and back-up instruments.


A Mode control panel, usually a long narrow panel located centrally in front of the pilot, may be used to control heading, speed, altitude, vertical speed, vertical navigation and lateral navigation. It may also be used to engage or disengage both the autopilot and the autothrottle. The panel as an area is usually referred to as the "glareshield panel". MCP is a Boeing designation (that has been informally adopted as a generic name for the unit/panel) for a unit that allows for the selection and parameter setting of the different autoflight functions, the same unit on an Airbus aircraft is referred to as the FCU (Flight Control unit).


The primary flight display is usually located in a prominent position, either centrally or on either side of the cockpit. It will in most cases include a digitized presentation of the attitude indicator, air speed and altitude indicators (usually as a tape display) and the vertical speed indicator. It will in many cases include some form of heading indicator and ILS/VOR deviation indicators. In many cases an indicator of the engaged and armed autoflight system modes will be present along with some form of indication of the selected values for altitude, speed, vertical speed and heading. It may be pilot selectable to swap with the ND.


A navigation display, which may be adjacent to the PFD, shows the route and information on the next waypoint, wind speed and wind direction. It may be pilot selectable to swap with the PFD.


The Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System (used for Boeing) or Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (for Airbus) will allow the pilot to monitor the following information: values for N1, N2 and N3, fuel temperature, fuel flow, the electrical system, cockpit or cabin temperature and pressure, control surfaces and so on. The pilot may select display of information by means of button press.


The flight management system/control unit may be used by the pilot to enter and check for the following information: flight plan, speed control, navigation control, and so on.

Back-up instruments

In a less prominent part of the cockpit, in case of failure of the other instruments, there will be a battery-powered integrated standby instrument system along with a magnetic compass, showing essential flight information such as speed, altitude, attitude and heading.

Aerospace industry technologies

In the U.S. the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have researched the ergonomic aspects of cockpit design and have conducted investigations of airline industry accidents. Cockpit design disciplines include Cognitive science, Neuroscience, Human–computer interaction, Human Factors Engineering, Anthropometry and Ergonomics.

Aircraft designs have adopted the fully digital "glass cockpit". In such designs, instruments and gauges, including navigational map displays, use a user interface markup language known as ARINC 661. This standard defines the interface between an independent cockpit display system, generally produced by a single manufacturer, and the avionics equipment and user applications it is required to support, by means of displays and controls, often made by different manufacturers. The separation between the overall display system, and the applications driving it, allows for specialization and independence.

See also


Related Research Articles


Avionics are the electronic systems used on aircraft, artificial satellites, and spacecraft. Avionic systems include communications, navigation, the display and management of multiple systems, and the hundreds of systems that are fitted to aircraft to perform individual functions. These can be as simple as a searchlight for a police helicopter or as complicated as the tactical system for an airborne early warning platform. The term avionics is a portmanteau of the words aviation and electronics.

Flight instruments

Flight instruments are the instruments in the cockpit of an aircraft that provide the pilot with data about the flight situation of that aircraft, such as altitude, airspeed, vertical speed, heading and much more other crucial information in flight. They improve safety by allowing the pilot to fly the aircraft in level flight, and make turns, without a reference outside the aircraft such as the horizon. Visual flight rules (VFR) require an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, and a compass or other suitable magnetic direction indicator. Instrument flight rules (IFR) additionally require a gyroscopic pitch-bank, direction and rate of turn indicator, plus a slip-skid indicator, adjustable altimeter, and a clock. Flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) require radio navigation instruments for precise takeoffs and landings.

Aviation is the design, development, production, operation, and use of aircraft, especially heavier-than-air aircraft. Articles related to aviation include:

Attitude indicator

The attitude indicator (AI), formerly known as the gyro horizon or artificial horizon, is a flight instrument that informs the pilot of the aircraft orientation relative to Earth's horizon, and gives an immediate indication of the smallest orientation change. The miniature aircraft and horizon bar mimic the relationship of the aircraft relative to the actual horizon. It is a primary instrument for flight in instrument meteorological conditions.

Air navigation Method used in air traffic control

The basic principles of air navigation are identical to general navigation, which includes the process of planning, recording, and controlling the movement of a craft from one place to another.

Flight engineer

A flight engineer (FE), also sometimes called an air engineer, is the member of an aircraft's flight crew who monitors and operates its complex aircraft systems. In the early era of aviation, the position was sometimes referred to as the "air mechanic". Flight engineers can still be found on some larger fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters. A similar crew position exists on some spacecraft. In most modern aircraft, their complex systems are both monitored and adjusted by electronic microprocessors and computers, resulting in the elimination of the flight engineer's position.

Glass cockpit Aircraft instrumentation system consisting primarily of multi-function electronic displays

A glass cockpit is an aircraft cockpit that features electronic (digital) flight instrument displays, typically large LCD screens, rather than the traditional style of analog dials and gauges. While a traditional cockpit relies on numerous mechanical gauges to display information, a glass cockpit uses several multi-function displays driven by flight management systems, that can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. This simplifies aircraft operation and navigation and allows pilots to focus only on the most pertinent information. They are also popular with airline companies as they usually eliminate the need for a flight engineer, saving costs. In recent years the technology has also become widely available in small aircraft.

Indicated airspeed (IAS) is the airspeed read directly from the airspeed indicator (ASI) on an aircraft, driven by the pitot-static system. It uses the difference between total pressure and static pressure, provided by the system, to either mechanically or electronically measure dynamic pressure. The dynamic pressure includes terms for both density and airspeed. Since the airspeed indicator cannot know the density, it is by design calibrated to assume the sea level standard atmospheric density when calculating airspeed. Since the actual density will vary considerably from this assumed value as the aircraft changes altitude, IAS varies considerably from true airspeed (TAS), the relative velocity between the aircraft and the surrounding air mass. Calibrated airspeed (CAS) is the IAS corrected for instrument and position error.

Aviation safety A state in which risks associated with aviation are at an acceptable level

Aviation safety means the state of an aviation system or organization in which risks associated with aviation activities, related to, or in direct support of the operation of aircraft, are reduced and controlled to an acceptable level. It encompasses the theory, practice, investigation, and categorization of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education, and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel.

Simulation cockpit

Simulation cockpits or simpits are environments designed to replicate a vehicle cockpit. Although many pits commonly designed around an aircraft cockpit, the term is equally valid for train, spacecraft or car projects.

Instrument landing system localizer Horizontal guidance system

An instrument landing system localizer, or simply localizer (LOC), is a system of horizontal guidance in the instrument landing system, which is used to guide aircraft along the axis of the runway.

Electronic flight instrument system

An electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) is a flight deck instrument display system that displays flight data electronically rather than electromechanically. An EFIS normally consists of a primary flight display (PFD), multi-function display (MFD), and an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) display. Early EFIS models used cathode ray tube (CRT) displays, but liquid crystal displays (LCD) are now more common. The complex electromechanical attitude director indicator (ADI) and horizontal situation indicator (HSI) were the first candidates for replacement by EFIS. Now, however, few flight deck instruments cannot be replaced by an electronic display.

Garmin G1000

The Garmin G1000 is an integrated flight instrument system typically composed of two display units, one serving as a primary flight display, and one as a multi-function display. Manufactured by Garmin, it serves as a replacement for most conventional flight instruments and avionics.

Primary flight display

A primary flight display or PFD is a modern aircraft instrument dedicated to flight information. Much like multi-function displays, primary flight displays are built around a Liquid-crystal display or CRT display device. Representations of older six pack or "steam gauge" instruments are combined on one compact display, simplifying pilot workflow and streamlining cockpit layouts.

Flight management system

A flight management system (FMS) is a fundamental component of a modern airliner's avionics. An FMS is a specialized computer system that automates a wide variety of in-flight tasks, reducing the workload on the flight crew to the point that modern civilian aircraft no longer carry flight engineers or navigators. A primary function is in-flight management of the flight plan. Using various sensors to determine the aircraft's position, the FMS can guide the aircraft along the flight plan. From the cockpit, the FMS is normally controlled through a Control Display Unit (CDU) which incorporates a small screen and keyboard or touchscreen. The FMS sends the flight plan for display to the Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS), Navigation Display (ND), or Multifunction Display (MFD). The FMS can be summarised as being a dual system consisting of the Flight Management Computer (FMC), CDU and a cross talk bus.

Synthetic vision system

A synthetic vision system (SVS) is a computer-mediated reality system for aerial vehicles, that uses 3D to provide pilots with clear and intuitive means of understanding their flying environment.

L-3 SmartDeck - is a fully integrated cockpit system originally developed by L-3 Avionics Systems. and acquired in 2010 by Esterline CMC Electronics through an exclusive licensing agreement.

This is a list of the acronyms and abbreviations used in avionics.

The HAL HJT 39, aka CAT , was an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) project proposal by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force. HAL HJT 39 CAT Programme was Announced at Aero India, February 2005, with mockup of front fuselage and cockpit shown. It was projected to fly within three and a half years of go-ahead with airframe and engine commonality with HAL HJT-36 Sitara, avionics comparable with those of HJT-36 and HAL Tejas.

Letov LK-2 Sluka

Letov LK-2 Sluka is a Czech single-seat high-wing ultralight aircraft produced by the Letov aircraft factory in 1990s and later as a kitbuilt or custom production using tools and material which remained after the closing of the factory production. Sluka is a simple, cheap and easy to fly aircraft which contributed to a rapid growth of ultralight flying organized by then established Light Aircraft Association in the Czech Republic. Its main purpose is a local hobby flying and a flight training as a complement to twin seat elementary trainers like Letov LK-3 and ST-4 or TL-32 Typhoon. Sluka does not offer any advanced training possibilities in respect of performance, speed, ceiling or aerobatics compared to the mentioned twin seat models but its purchase price and cost per flight hour are lower. In 2010s it is usually operated by private owners and enthusiasts as it never was widely used in aero clubs which preferred modern composite or metal designs with better performance and fuel economy usually powered by the 4-stroke Rotax 912.


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  2. 1 2 Godfey, Kara (25 May 2017). "FLIGHTS REVEALED: Pilot reveals what REALLY goes on in a cockpit...and it may surprise you". The Express. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
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  16. Stanton, N. A., Harvey, C., Plant, K. L. and Bolton, L., 2013, "To twist, roll, stroke or poke. A study of input devices for menu navigation in the cockpit", Ergonomic Abstracts, Vol. 56 (4), pp. 590–611