Who flies the plane?
On a large passenger plane there’s a pilot and a co-pilot, and sometimes a third pilot in the cockpit. All are able to fly the plane, and you have more than one as there’s so many controls and monitors to watch. And also, on a long journey, the pilots need a rest!
By tradition, the captain or pilot in command sits in the left seat, whilst the co-pilot sits in the right seat.
How do they fly the plane?
In front of each seat is a control column, which is part of an aircraft’s flight system and control the flaps on the wings and the tailfin – which move the plane upwards and downwards. On very modern passenger planes, these sticks may be located to the one side of the seat and look more like the joysticks you might have with your games console.
On a plane, a pilot increases power to the engines using a throttle – a black lever in the centre of the instrument panel that is pushed forward to increase thrust and pulled back to shut off fuel to the engine.
In addition to speed and elevation, the third primary control in a plane is direction. Whilst your parents change direction using a steering wheel, to turn a plane in the air, pilots use two rudder pedals, to control yaw, which move the rudder (that’s the fin at the back) – the left pedal moving the rudder left, and so on.
To slow a plane in the air, pilots change the planes thrust by reducing the fuel to the engines. But to slow a plane on the ground, pilots use brakes in the landing gear – just like the brake pedal in your car.
These brakes are operated using the top section of the rudder pedals. But as planes are travelling very fast when they land, in addition to these wheel brakes, pilots also use thrust reversers that allow thrust from the engines to blow forwards.
What else is in the cockpit?
The cockpit of a plane is also packed full of flight instruments – hundreds of dials, screens, switches and lights. These crucial gauges provide a pilot with critical data during the flight. Some of the most important instruments are:
- Airspeed indicator – which tells the pilot how fast the plane is traveling.
- Altimeter – which measures how high the plane is above the ground.
- Attitude indicator – which illustrates the aircraft’s orientation along pitch, yaw and roll.
- Heading indicator – so the pilot knows in which direction the plane is heading!
- Variometer – now this is one of my favourites – it indicates the rate of a plane’s rate of climb or descent. Too fast or too slow could be dangerous for the plane
- The communications system – allows the pilots to speak to the cabin crew and passengers, as well as ground control.
If you are curious about what’s in a cockpit, why not check out an air show – there’s often chances to peek inside different types of cockpit and you could even try your hand at a flight simulator and take the controls for yourself!
Amy Aviation with support from the Royal Aeronautical Society. Click here to find out more.