Evolution of the Airplane Cockpit


For those of you that know me, you will know I am obsessed with anything that deals technology and/or airplanes.   Here is a compilation of aircraft cockpits through the years.  From the Wright Flyer to the Airbus A380 – there is quite a difference between the two – and a progression through the years of innovation.

1903 Wright Flyer

Wright Brothers’ Flyer – Is this even a cockpit?  If you study the photo below of the Wright Brother’s first “Wright Flyer,” you will notice that it’s not easy to even “see” the ship’s cockpit, since the pilot has no place truly worthy of even being called what we understand to be a cockpit.  In fact, the Wrights, and those they taught to operate their “Flyer,” were completely exposed to the elements, with no protection, not even from the wind stream.


Fokker D.VII

1916 – Fokker D.VII German Fighter Aircraft from WWI – Flown by famous Ace Baron Von Richthofen.  This German airplane also used the then conventional control “stick” (chrome tube ) with added controls attached to its top.  Once again, we have an open “cockpit.”  Enclosed cockpits were still not yet in use.


Douglas M-2

1925 – Douglas M-2 Cockpit of Mail Carrier Craft.  Take note of the control “stick” in the center.  This cockpit is still fully exposed and has no ceiling or enclosed sides.


Bellanca C.F.

1920’s – Award Winning Bellanca CF Monoplane.  Once again you can see the control “stick’ in the center.  Also note that the passenger compartment was in front of and below the pilot in photo.  This is an open cockpit.


Spirit of St. Louis

1927 – Charles A. Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis Cockpit.  Notice he also had a “stick” as seen in center of picture.  Because this unique aircraft had no forward visibility for the pilot, Lindbergh had a periscope mounted in the cockpit’s ceiling.  This device is in the top of photo, is painted black and sits slightly behind the control “stick.”  This displays one of the earliest fully enclosed cockpits.


Grumman G-21

1930’s – Grumman G21 “Goose” – Company’s 1st Commercial Monoplane Seaplane to Serve as Commercial Airliner.  You can see that instead of a control “stick,” the pilots controlled the banking and pitching movements of the aircraft with control “wheels” or “yokes.”


Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VII

1939 – 1945 – Famed British Supermarine Spitfire Fighter, which helped win the Battle of Britain.  Here, you can see the control “stick” between where the pilot’s knees would be, but it is different insofar as it has a small wheel at its top.  Because this cockpit’s all clear plastic canopy is drawn back out of sight, it appears this was an open cockpit, but no WWII aircraft had open cockpits.


Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F-8

1941 – Nazi’s Top Fighter from WWII – Focke Wulf FW 190 F.G.  Note the usual control “stick” in front center of seat.


Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a

1940’s – Nazi Jet Fighter – Messerschmitt ME 262A – 1A – 1st Jet Fighter from any country  to enter service in WWII.  You can easily spot the control “stick” in front center of the pilot’s seat.


Boeing B-29

1944 – Boeing B29 Super Fortress – Last WWII U.S.  heavy bomber which dropped the two Atomic Bombs on Japan.  Instead of the control “stick” this aircraft used control “wheels” or “Yokes” , which appear painted in black and much like auto steering wheels, except that the top of the wheel is removed.


Bell X-1

1948-1954 – Bell X1 Rocket ship – Flown by world renowned Test Pilot Chuck Yeager, who named this first supersonic test ship after his wife: “Glamorous Glennis.”  Again, the control “stick” is in front of the seat belt buckle.


De Havilland DH 106 Comet

1949 – De Havilland DH 106 “Comet.” World’s first full service Jet Airliner.  Again we see the side-by-side seating for the pilot and co-pilot as in most large aircraft, and they are each equipped with “yokes.”


Douglas DC-7

1953 – 1958 – Douglas DC-7. First Pressurized Douglas Four Engine Supercharged Airliner.  This was the last Douglass powered by conventional piston engines.  Their next model, the DC-8, was the first Douglas Jet Airliner.  Note the two yokes.



General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon

1977 – Still in USAF Service – General Dynamics/Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon Day Superiority Jet Fighter.  Now, for the first time, we see the control stick on the right side of the pilot’s seat.  It is black with special buttons (red, white and black) on its top surface and you can see a rubber flex-boot (gray) at its base.


Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird

1966 – 1998 – Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” – Flown by the USAF’s First Aero Squadron. The World’s Fastest Jet Aircraft, which was equipped with the now typical control “stick” in center .



1969 – 2003 – 1st Commercial Supersonic Jet Airliner. Built by joint consortium of both the French & British. Plans are currently in process to fly it again.  As with most of its predecessors, this airliner also provided conventional “yokes” for each pilot.


Boeing 747-8

1969 to Present – Boeing 747-8. First “Wide Bodied” jet in commercial service.  Here again we note that the pilots use conventional “yokes’ to direct the “wide-bodied” airliner.  Notice the disappearance of the old “steam gauges” and the substitution of the new multi-informational “glass panel” instrumentation now integrated into the cockpit’s design.

Airbus A320

1984 – Currently Operating: Airbus A320 Narrow Body Airliner.  This new airliner has both the new glass panels in its instrument array and has replaced the conventional “yokes” with side mounted control “sticks” on either side of each pilot.  The lighting in this photo tends to obscure the shape and location of the “sticks,” but they are there.  If you look closely you can likely see them.


Boeing 787

2009 – Present.  The Boeing “Dreamliner” incorporates the first widespread use of high-tech non-metallic structural members and skinning materials.  While this latest Boeing still provides “yokes” for its pilots, the old “steam gauges” have completely disappeared from the instrument panel and all the flight and engine data is presented via the new rectangular glass panel instrumentation array.


Airbus A380

2005 – Currently Operating. The Airbus 380.  Again, no “yokes” for the pilots, but rather the small “sticks” to the front and side of each pilot’s seat.  Notice the computer keyboard pulled out in front of the co-pilot’s seat (right).

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