Question: In the cockpit are all those buttons and knobs really used or necessary to fly the plane?
– Gerry, Atlanta
Answer: Yes, the buttons and knobs are used to control the airplane in normal flight or when there is a problem with a system. While they look confusing to the layperson the pilots know exactly what each one does and how it is to be used.
Q: I’m fascinated with the cockpit and all of the controls. Can you explain some of the hundreds of knobs, levers, etc.? Also, what are the handful of main controls that are most common throughout the flight? Thanks.
– Zachary Landgraf, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey
A: You ask a difficult question, as the controls for every airplane are different. In modern airplanes the flight management computer is frequently used to command the autopilot regarding the route to fly. Controls to operate lights, hydraulic systems, pneumatic systems, temperature, anti- or de-icing systems, navigation and communication radios are located throughout most flight decks.
Q: I fly a lot and when I enter the plane to take my seat, the cockpit door is always open. Isn’t this a security risk?
– Fred Lewis, St. Louis Park, Minnesota
A: No, the crew carefully monitors entry into the flight deck. While the airplane is at the gate it is attached to a tug and could not move without the proper people in command of it.
Q: Why do I always see a wool cover over the seats in the cockpit?
– Les Aikman, La Mirada, California
A: Seatback covers are made of fire-resistant material. While wool is somewhat fire-resistant it does not meet the certification standard. It may look like wool but it is a specially created fabric to improve survivability in the event of a fire in the cabin.
Q: I know the cockpit over time has become much more automated with touchscreens and few gauges and manual levers. Do you anticipate we’ll ever get to the point where the cockpit is entirely made up of touchscreens, like a Tesla?
– David Fischer, Portland, Oregon
A: I suppose it is possible, but the ergonomics of some switches (like the landing gear) are better with a tactile feel. There is a definite move toward touchscreens but to only have them is a long way off.
John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.
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