Why Does the Captain of a Bomber Always Sit on the Left Side

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Why Does the Captain of a Bomber Always Sit on the Left Side

Postby Sloop » Sun May 08, 2016 11:42 am

Here's the article I was telling the chaps from TFK about the other weekend - credit to thevintagenews.com

Why does the Captain sit on the left in an aircraft? Is it just tradition or is it a technical reason because some of the controls are different than from the right?

In an aircraft’s cockpit, the captain always sits on the left side and this has raised queries as to why he never sits on the right. The reason for this in a commercial jet-liner seems to be rather historical. It is like asking why some cars are left-hand drive whilst others are right-hand drive

At the end of the World War I, most fighter aircraft were designed and fitted with rotary engines. When it came to steering these rotary-engine aircraft, turning to the left was easier because it followed the torque of the engine, whereas turning to the right was harder, as it was against the torque (twisting) forces. Hence, it would require more rudder movement to compensate for the forces. Because of this, pilots chose to turn left as a more convenient manoeuvre and thus, most traffic patterns in the air around airfields involved mainly left turns. Or put in another war – the reason pilots (at least the Captain) sit on the left side has to do with original 2-seat single-engine prop-driven planes, and Newton’s third law which states that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.

In most original aircraft engine designs, the aircraft propeller rotated to counter-clockwise when viewed from the pilot’s seat. Mr. Newton says that when you apply power, the aircraft will rotate along its longitudinal axis clockwise, or to the right. Therefore, if the pilot occupies the left seat when s/he is flying by him/herself, then that slight change in the lateral Center of Gravity will help compensate for the prop torque. Manufacturers incorporated this tendency into the early designs to help compensate for this torque effect. So the left seat -Pilot in Command – position has been standard practice since the 1930’s, even though more modern props turn clockwise.

It has nothing to do with left-handed vs right-handed pilots. Actually, the majority of people are right-handed (and therefore most pilots are right handed) and this means flying the aircraft with your left hand (on a conventional yoke system) and using your dominant hand for the throttle and other controls and instruments. Being L handed or R handed makes no difference on the capability of the pilot to control an aircraft.

On multi-engine planes and all large jets, there is no measurable torque effect, and both pilot positions have equal controls, instrumentation and visibility. It is just a custom that the PIC sits on the left. There is certainly no advantage in flying one side or the other.

Almost as soon as they were invented, airplanes were used for military purposes. The first country to use them for military purposes was Italy, whose aircraft made reconnaissance, bombing and artillery correction flights in Libya during the Italian-Turkish war (September 1911 – October 1912). The first mission (a reconnaissance) occurred on 23 October 1911. The first bombing mission was flown on 1 November 1911. Then Bulgaria followed this example. Its airplanes attacked and reconnoitred the Ottoman positions during the First Balkan War 1912–13. The first war to see major use of airplanes in offensive, defensive and reconnaissance capabilities was World War I. The Allies and Central Powers both used airplanes and airships extensively.

While the concept of using the airplane as an offensive weapon was generally discounted before World War I, the idea of using it for photography was one that was not lost on any of the major forces. All of the major forces in Europe had light aircraft, typically derived from pre-war sporting designs, attached to their reconnaissance departments. Radio-telephones were also being explored on airplanes, notably the SCR-68, as communication between pilots and ground commander grew more and more important.
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