Parts of an Airplane Cockpit: Main Components of an Aircraft's Cockpit

  • January 15, 2024

Welcome to the world of aviation, where you will step into the pilots' hub - the airplane cockpit. This guide will provide in-depth information about the cockpit, the pilots' central command area which governs every aspect of the aircraft's journey from takeoff to landing. As you delve deeper, you'll understand that the cockpit's sophistication goes well beyond just a pilot, co-pilot, and an instrument panel.

What’s in a name? Cockpits, Flight Decks, and Crew Stations

Many of the words we use today for aviation have nautical origins, and the term “cockpit” is no exception. In the early days of aviation, pilots sat in a cramped, wood-and-fabric open tub, buffeted by wind and the elements. It was very much like the “cockpit” where a coxswain sat in a small sailing boat. Hence the archaic name. But today’s jetliners sport touch screens, reclining sheepskin-lined seats, and more. So the more modern term “flight deck” has taken root in recent decades. And aerospace engineers use the more general term “crew station”. All these terms tend to be used interchangeably.

What’s the right terminology? That depends on the audience. For military, general aviation, and “old school” audiences, cockpit is appropriate. For professional pilots at airline, cargo, and charter operators, flight deck is the accepted term. Engineers? Break out your CAD software and design us a crew station… but we’ll be busy on a cross-country flight so just email us when you’re done.

Today we’ll keep it simple and use the term cockpit. Let's look at some actual airplane cockpits.

Cessna 172 Cockpit Cessna 172 cockpit components

Airbus Cockpit

Airbus cockpit components


C-172 Cockpit Diagram

Cessna 172 cockpit component diagram

Image credit: Infinite Flight App]

All the parts of traditional Cessna 172 Cockpit 

Letter

Instrument

Explained

A

Engine Oil Indicators

This section displays engine oil pressure and temperature

B

Fuel Quantity

This instrument simply states how much fuel your aircraft has on board.

C

Vacuum Gage / Ammeter

Displays the pressure generated by the vacuum pump to function the attitude and heading indicator

D

Fuel Flow

Displays amount of fuel being used in gallons per hour

E

Digital Clock

Displays the current Zulu time (SIM)

F

Airspeed Indicator*

This instrument gives you your current airspeed of the aircraft

G

Attitude Indicator

This instrument gives you the current orientation of your aircraft relative to the horizon

H

Altimeter

This instrument gives you your current altitude above mean sea level (MSL)

I

VOR Receiver with Glideslope*

Displays Glideslope and Localizer needles for ILS approaches

J

Turn Coordinator

Displays aircraft roll movement

K

Directional Gyro

Displays the direction your aircraft is going

L

Vertical Speed Indicator

Displays how fast you are climbing or descending in 100 feet per minute

M

VOR Receiver*

Measures the bearing from the selected VOR station

N

Tachometer

Displays the engine’s revolutions per minute (RPM)

O

ADF Bearing Indicator*

Points towards selected heading from NAV System page

P

Ignition Switch

Provides a spark to the engine’s fuel/air mixture. In other words, it starts your aircraft

Q

Master Switch

Turns on/off electrical system

R

Electrical Switches

Switches for exterior lighting and fuel pump switch

S

Avionics Master Switch

Gives power to the avionics bus

T

Throttle

Gives power to engine

U

Mixture*

Controls how much fuel gets injected into engine

V

Flap Switch

Displays current flap position and changes flap angle

W

Annunciator Panel

Displays a series of warning lights to show the status of the engine to the pilot and contains a test/brightness switch

Y

Autopilot Source*

Displays current selected autopilot mode

X

Standby Compass

Displays current heading

Z

GPS (Garmin GNX375)*

Displays a map with flight details

1

Com Radio / Transponder

Displays your current tuned ATC frequency

2

Fuel Tank Selector

Select which tank(s) you want the fuel to be used from

What are the Essential Parts of an Aircraft Cockpit?

Understanding the Cockpit at a Glance

An aircraft cockpit, whether it is of a large airliner like Boeing or a smaller aircraft, is a collection of intricate parts and systems designed for specific functions. The primary parts of an airplane cockpit include flight control tools, the instrument panel, navigation systems, and control surfaces. The flight controls span from yokes and pedals to more digital systems in modern glass cockpits, including those of well-known airlines' Airbus aircraft.

The Main Components of a Cockpit and Their Functions

The central component in a cockpit of a plane, the yoke (or side-stick in some aircraft like Airbus), allows the plane to roll and pitch., allows the plane to roll and pitch, while rudder pedals control yaw. ( The instrument panel displays vital information about the flight, such as altitude and speed. An engine's performance is monitored by gauges while digital electronic flight instruments provide accurate navigational and flight data. Control surfaces, such as ailerons and flaps, contribute to the plane's movement in the air. They are typically found at the trailing edge of the wing and the empennage.

From Pedals to Yokes: A Pilot's Control Tools

The yoke and pedals are the primary flight controls in an aircraft cockpit which the pilot uses to control the plane's movement. The yoke is used for roll and pitch control, while the rudder pedals enable the pilot to manage yaw control. Modern cockpits also use fly-by-wire systems to control these movements.

Exploring the Instrument Panel: Vital Information at Hand

An instrument panel, a key part of any cockpit, houses numerous devices and display systems that provide real-time information about the flight to the pilot. These devices range from traditional analog gauges showing speed and altitude to the more contemporary Primary Flight Display (PFD) and Navigation Display (ND) on a glass cockpit display, offering more in-depth flight information.

The Evolution of the Cockpit Design: Traditional to Glass Cockpit

The cockpit design has seen significant changes since the dawn of aviation. Traditional cockpits that depended on stand-alone instruments have given way to glass cockpits with integrated display system, improving both aircraft management and safety. A glass cockpit typically includes electronic flight instrumentation, reducing the pilot's workload and simplifying information presentation.

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Flex Air Preflight Challenge Large Cockpit Trainer


What Role Does the Yoke and Pedal Play in the Cockpit?

In the cockpit of a plane, the yoke and pedal are essential for controlling the aircraft. The main components, typically included for navigation, allow pilots to direct the plane's altitude, speed, and direction.

Determining the Role of the Yoke in Aircraft Control

The yoke, a U-shaped lever located at the front of the plane, enables the pilot to control the aircraft's pitch and roll. It’s an indispensable tool in the cockpit design and controlling the aircraft's movements.

How Pilots Utilize the Rudder Pedals for Navigation

While yoke controls the plane's altitude and roll, rudder pedals help in controlling its direction along the vertical axis. Pilots use these pedals to regulate aircraft's yaw movement, assisting in turning and ground steering.

The Art of Combining Yoke and Pedal Controls

Excellence in aviation necessitates mastering the combination of yoke and pedal controls. It enables deft controlling of the aircraft, yielding smoother takeoff and landing, even in demanding flying conditions.

Understanding the Function of Flight Controls for Takeoff and Landing

During takeoff and landing, pilots employ a range of flight controls-from throttles to flaps-to ensure a secure and smooth journey. Precise use of these controls is crucial for operating both smaller aircraft and larger airliners.

Controlling the Aircraft: From Large Airliners to Smaller Aircraft

Although the principles remain the same, the complexity of controlling the aircraft increases as we move from smaller aircraft to large airliners due to more systems and controls in the cockpit.

How Does the Instrument Panel Assist Pilots?

Next in the aviation world's fascinating cockpit design is the Instrument Panel that furnishes vital information about the flight, including altimeter readings and the status of the landing gear. This avionics panel, which includes controls for landing gear and altimeter dials, is tailored to the type of aircraft, such as an Airbus, and its specific requirements.

Deciphering the Flight Deck: Variations in Different Aircraft Types

The flight deck varies depending on the specific type of aircraft. Each flight deck consists of cockpit displays designed to provide the pilot with requisite information for flying the aircraft. The larger the airplane, the more the panel comprises.

Interpreting the Gauges and Indicators for Safe Flight

Gauges and indicators are like a plane's vital signs. They display information such as the aircraft's altitude, airspeed, and fuel state on the avionics display, thus assisting the pilot in ensuring a safe flight and following the flight plan.

The Importance of an Electronic Flight Instrument System

The Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) has revolutionized flight control. In modern jets and airliners, the glass cockpit, empowered with EFIS displays like PFD (Primary Flight Display) and ND (Navigation Display), furthers safe and efficient flying.

Flight Management and Air Traffic Control: Keeping Tracks from the Cockpit

Flight Management Systems (FMS) and Air Traffic Control (ATC) systems are integral to managing flights. Pilots rely on these systems to navigate busy skies, monitor weather, and communicate with ground control effectively.

How Display Systems Enable the Pilot to Control the Flight

Display systems form an integral part of the cockpit, serving crucially in enabling the pilot to control the flight. These aircraft systems inform them about internal and external conditions, ultimately dictating their decisions.

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What Components are Unique to the Cockpit of Propeller Planes?

Propeller planes have their unique elements in the cockpit. Let's explore some specific cockpit components that distinguish propeller planes from their jet counterparts.

The Role of the Propeller in a Plane’s Operation

A core component of propeller planes is the propeller. It is responsible for generating thrust, allowing the plane to move in the air. The control system enables the pilot to regulate the propeller's speed and direction.

Understanding the Trailing Edge and Control Surfaces

The trailing edge, located at the rearward part of the wing, houses several important control surfaces. These include the ailerons and flaps, essential for the aircraft's aerodynamic control. How do you tell whether you’re looking at a flap or an aileron? Flaps are always inboard, that is, closer to the wing root and centerline of the aircraft. Ailerons are always outboard, that is, closer to the wing tip and farther from the centerline.

Navigating Ailerons in Propeller Aircraft

Ailerons play a significant role in the navigation of all fixed-wing aircraft, including both propeller and jet planes. They form part of the control surfaces, allowing for efficient steering and controlling of the aircraft. Ailerons control an aircraft’s roll, making them a key component in turns (but just one of three flight controls that all have to be coordinated!)

Taking off and Landing with Flaps and Ailerons in Propeller Aircraft

Flaps are part of a family of features called “high lift devices”. They’re designed to increase lift generated by the wing at low speeds, which is helpful during takeoffs and landings. Flaps create resistance, called drag, that makes them less efficient at high speeds. So, flaps are retracted during cruise operations when they’re not required.

An Insight into the Control System of Propeller Aircraft

The control system of propeller aircraft is complex, consisting of numerous interconnected elements. These include the throttle control, the propeller control, and the gear control for the landing gear, which manipulate the plane's airspeed, thrust, and altitude, respectively.

Specifics of the Flight Deck in Propeller-Driven Aircraft

The flight deck of propeller-driven aircraft often includes specific gauges like the propeller RPM indicator. Similarly, jet aircraft have specialized indicators like N1 and N2 for jet engine RPM.

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What are the Components of the Empennage and How Do They Influence Flight?

The empennage, a fancy French word for the tail of the aircraft, is a key component. It houses several parts that aid in flight control. Let's dissect it further.

Learning about the Empennage: The Airplane’s Tail

A crucial part of the airplane, the empennage, holds the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, the rudder, and the elevator. These components help stabilize the aircraft in flight and contribute to its control and steering.

The Role of Vertical and Horizontal Stabilizers in Maintaining Altitude

Vertically, the airplane’s stability is predominantly controlled by the vertical stabilizer. On the other hand, the horizontal stabilizer helps to maintain the plane's equilibrium and pitch control, playing a key role in maintaining a constant altitude.

How the Elevators Control Pitch and Altitude

The trailing edge of most horizontal stabilizers includes a moveable flight control surface called the elevator.  The elevator helps to maintain the plane's stability and pitch control, playing a key role in maintaining a constant altitude.

How the Rudder, Elevators, and ailerons Control the Plane's Direction

As part of the empennage, the rudder provides control over the aircraft's direction and altitude. But the rudder is just one of three controls that need to be coordinated for smooth turns! While the rudder helps the plane turn, proper use of the elevator is needed to keep the plane’s turn level, while proper use of ailerons are needed to roll the plane into and out of the turn. Taken together, this combined use of the ailerons, elevators, and rudder is called a “coordinated turn”. 

Insights into How Pilots Control the Aircraft's Trailing Edge of the Wing

The trailing edge of the wing harbors several important control surfaces. These flight controls include the ailerons and flaps. Flaps are primarily used to increase lift during lower speeds, such as during takeoff and landing, while ailerons, located at the wing's trailing edge, are used for roll control.

An Overview of Control Surfaces and the Increase in Lift they Provide

Pilots control the ailerons and flaps through inputs to the yoke or side-stick and pedals. While pilots provide the input, these controls are often assisted by power systems such as hydraulics or fly-by-wire technology, especially in larger aircraft.

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