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This page was created by Jonas Pfeiffer.

Boeing 737-201 cockpit

The modern Cockpit

This section aims to give you a rough overview of the things you can expect to see in the cockpit of a modern airliner. You can find an interactive 360° cockpit of an Airbus A 380 under the following link.

Right in front of the pilot is the Primary flight display (PFD). It displays essential flight information such as airspeed, groundspeed, altitude, attitude, vertical speed, heading and a myriad of other information. These are also the displays you can find in our Simulink model. A basic overview over the PFD is linked below.

In real aircraft, as well as in our model there's even more to be seen. For example Mach number, selected QNH and navigational information are or can be displayed.

In the center console are further displays usually displaying engine information, fuel situation and other basic information about the aircraft (please note that all displays are multi-function and as such can display other information as well). There's also the landing gear controls.
To the outside of a pilot's knees is a side-stick, controlling pitch and roll movements. Beside that is the controller steering the nose wheel on the ground (up to a point it can be steered using the rudder pedals as is normal in aircraft, but for maximum deflection the hand controller is needed). The top of the center console (sunscreen) is occupied by the autopilot control panel. It allows to switch autopilot modes (i.e. autoclimb, constant heading etc.) and to generally control the autopilot. It also allows to give targets for airspeed, altitude, heading etc. Autothrottle can also be controlled from here.
Between the pilots are the controls for the flight management system (FMS), the throttle quadrant, but also controls for the speed brakes (left) and the flaps (right). Also located there are the trim controls, parking brake and fuel cocks (beneath the throttle quadrant).
The overhead panel features engine controls, light controls, radio equipment, fuel system controls and warnings, circuit breakers and other emergency equipment.


As you are probably well aware, aircraft need to be trimmed. Trimming most often uses trim tabs, small surfaces at the edges of larger surfaces to trim these. In this way the smaller surface applies a torque to the lager one to balance it. This works, because the center of pressure of the trim ab is located farther from the hinge than the one of the main control surface. Trimming can be useful to reduce stick (or rudder) forces and is available for all three of the primary flight controls (elevator, aileron and rudder) in most commercial aircraft. It is also used to balance shifts in center of gravity or thrust or to counteract (aerodynamic) imbalances in an aircraft.
The following video demonstrates the use of elevator trim in a general aviation aircraft.

Some aircraft especially in general aviation (GA) don't feature trim surfaces for all flight controls or none at all (usually only elevator). Elevator trim is commonly controlled by a trim wheel. Rotating the wheel forward makes the plane nose heavy. It looks like this in many GA planes. To the left of it you can see the trim indicator, although it usually only has one marking (take off). Commercial aircraft often feature a trim wheel between the pilots, as seen here. These wheels are motorized, so that they can move when the autopilot changes trim. In some commercial aircraft (i.e. McDonnell-Douglas MD-11) the trim situation can also be influenced by pumping fuel between tanks. Also, it is possible for most commercial aircraft to change the angle of incidence for the horizontal tail. This also changes trim and reduces drag compared to a conventional trim surface.

Rudder trim usually looks somewhat like this. Rudder trim is essential in small very high powered piston-engined aircraft such as WWII fighter aircraft (i.e. the Supermarine Spitfire). Their engines produce a lot of torque and it is essential for safe take offs to trim the aircraft against the resulting swing during the take off roll.
In modern jet-powered aircraft rudder trim is less essential, but still featured in commercial aircraft.

Aileron trim, which is also uncommon in GA aircraft, is usually controlled by a switch or trim wheel. It can be used to eliminate rolling tendencies caused i.e. by differing fuel levels in the wings.

Historic cockpits

Historically the six most important flight instruments were often arranged directly in front of the pilot. These six are:

The first three of these are pressure sensitive instruments. The remaining ones are gyro-based. These six instruments are known as basic six (also six-pack) and were commonly arranged in a T-shape.
Standardizing instrument position made it easier to train pilots and for them to transition between aircraft types, especially important in and around World War II. In the days preceding WWII, instrument flying was much less common. Planes often featured open cockpits (i.e this cockpit of a De Havilland Tiger Moth) and were flown by feel ("seat of the pants flying").
When speeds increased, cockpits were closed to streamline them. (see this image of a North American P-51 Mustang). Its cockpit marks a massive step forward WWII pushed the development of aviation a lot, increasing speeds (amongst other things by the introduction of the turbojet) and maximum ranges massively. Also the global scale of the conflict made air operations way more routine. By the end of the war, the pressurized Boeing B-29 Superfortress was able to fly around 9,000 km at 190 knots (350 km/h). Its cockpit can be seen here.

After the war, the irrevocable transition to the jet age changed cockpits a lot. The basic six were changed to this arrangement (1-Airspeed indicator, 2-AI, 3- altimeter, 4-TC, 5-HI, 6 VSI). At the beginning of jet air transport, cockpits were very chaotic (see this cockpit of a De Havilland Comet), but subsequently got more organized after some accidents were blamed on the messy cockpit layouts. Also understanding of workload grew and crew resource management became a thing after flight crews were trimmed to two pilots (omitting a flight engineer). This cockpit of a Boeing 737-200 shows an intermediate step in cockpit evolution, still featuring analog round instruments.
A modern cockpit can be found at the top of the page. The much clearer and less overwhelming delivery of information is obvious.

Photo information

This photograph, showing the cockpit of a former US Air Boeing 737-201, was taken at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA in 2018. Their official website can be found here.