Fight­ing Cockpits

The com­bat-air­craft cock­pit has some sort of mag­i­cal at­trac­tion to all who fly and those who would like to fly. It is the throne room in which aerial war­riors, both past and present, sat and en­gaged in that rare form of com­bat that is built around the thi

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - by Budd Davis­son & Don­ald Ni­jboer

What fol­lows is a brief sam­pling of pho­tog­ra­pher Dan Pat­ter­son’s graphic sto­ry­telling in which com­bat cockpits are the cen­tral char­ac­ters. We lifted these out of the re­cent book Fight­ing Cockpits, writ­ten by long­time au­thor Don­ald Ni­jboer and pho­tographed by Pat­ter­son, both past Flight Jour­nal con­trib­u­tors.

The con­cept we’ve come to know as a “cock­pit” was not part of the Wright Broth­ers’ orig­i­nal vi­sion when they de­signed those first air­planes. In fact, it was some time af­ter they suc­cess­fully fig­ured out how to tem­po­rar­ily nul­lify grav­ity that even a sin­gle in­stru­ment was on­board their ma­chines. At some point, how­ever, they asked them­selves, “I won­der how high I am?” and the al­time­ter was born. Then the ques­tion was “How fast am I go­ing?” Then sys­tems ques­tions in­volv­ing rpms, tem­per­a­tures, fluid vol­umes, etc., quickly fer­til­ized the in­stru­ment in­dus­try. This gave birth to the need for a place to mount those gauges and the pi­lot’s in­stru­ment panel was born. The con­cept of an ac­tual cock­pit was part of the search for ways to mount the in­stru­ment panel and stream­line the fuse­lage at the same time.

From the ear­li­est and crud­est cockpits, where in­stru­ments were strewn about with lit­tle or­ga­ni­za­tion, to the mighty bombers like the B-52, which were or­gies of in­stru­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion, the cock­pit has con­tin­ued to evolve. The fol­low­ing pages at­tempt to show that evo­lu­tion, or­ga­nized ac­cord­ing to air­plane type (e.g., fighter, bomber, etc.).

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