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Flying Explained: Cockpit Operations

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Cockpit Operations of Commercial Airliners

Oftentimes passengers might wonder what is inside the plane's cockpit. The only time you usually hear from a pilot is during the takeoff, landing, when experiencing turbulence, and maybe to provide updates on your flight's progress.

However, the flight deck is quite a busy and important place. It is a small compartment where the pilots' seats are surrounded by a daunting array of instruments and controls to help flying the plane.

What is the Cockpit?

The cockpit is the section in the aircraft where the pilot and the co-pilot manage all aspects of flight, including communications, navigation, and the actual process of controlling the engines, control surfaces, and systems required for flight. The two primary functions of the cockpit are

  • To provide the pilots with all indications required for full situational flight awareness
  • To make all the control mechanisms accessible

Aircraft Cockpit

What does Plane Cockpit mean?

The cockpit of the plane is the place where the plane is controlled. This segment is like an office to the pilot and co-pilot.

All the necessary data is passing on to the pilot and co-pilot with the help of the panels present in this section. Further, it ensures that the aircraft can fly sturdily.

Moreover, this is a particular part of the plane which is fully equipped with the security systems through which the pilots can control the aircraft. Thus, the cockpit gives every essential data about the plane during the flight.

READ MORE: Planes of the Boeing Family

What does the cockpit team consist of?

The cockpit team consists of two pilots, the captain, and the co-pilot or the first officer. The captain generally sits on the left side of the cockpit while the co-pilot assists him.

In earlier days, a flight engineer was appointed who had to monitor the plane's instruments. This role is now replaced by sophisticated on-board computers in most of the aircraft.

Cockpit procedures before taking off

Before the takeoff of the flight, there are certain cockpit procedures that need to follow wisely.

  • The captain has to ensure that he has all the details of the flight. These details include the destination and the flight path, the weather, aircraft weight, the number of passengers on board the plane, and the crew.
  • The first officer has to carry out a general inspection of the plane to ensure everything is in good working order.
  • Then both the pilots check that the control and flight instruments are working properly.
  • After this, the captain signs a flight release document attesting that he has received the flight information and that the crew is fit to fly.
  • When this information is verified by the air traffic control tower, the plane is cleared to push back from the gate and get ready for takeoff.

Cockpit functions

READ MORE: Planes of the Airbus Family

Cockpit Components

There are numerous control systems, switches, indicators and displays inside the cockpit of the plane.

Overhead panel

There is usually an overhead panel on the ceiling that contains the instruments which help to monitor the airplane's electrical, hydraulic, fuel and pressure systems.

Instrument panel

In front of the pilot's seat, there is the instrument panel. It consists of the flight management system, which contains the flight plan, speed control as well as navigation details. Further, the airplane's autopilot control is also part of the instrument panel just below the windscreen.

Flight control unit

There is also the flight control unit in the cockpit which shows the plane's altitude, heading, and rate of climb and descent. The control wheel or yoke is present in front of the pilot that allows him to steer the plane in different directions. Some aircraft also utilize fly-by-wire joysticks (like the A320).

Other control systems

Another control system allows the pilot to check the wind speed and direction, fuel temperature, as well as cockpit pressure and temperature. Most of the planes also have a set of backup flight instruments that provide basic flight information in case the main one fails.

Glass cockpit

Glass Cockpits

A Glass Cockpit refers to an avionics suite that largely replaces many switches, dials, and indicators with high-resolution displays, allowing pilots to easily view and control multiple facets in a much more efficient manner. There are several benefits of having a glass cockpit in the plane. Some of the benefits are given below

Facilitate communication

The presence of the radios inside the flight deck facilitates communication between the pilots and the air traffic control towers or airfields.


Rather than interpreting the altimeter's needles or position of the airspeed indicator, you can have the actual numerical values right on the glass display.

Graphical Weather

Receiving the weather information digitally is one of the most useful aspects for the glass cockpits. ADSB weather gives the pilots forecasts, satellite imagery, radar reports, pilot reports, and many more.

GPS satellite navigation

The GPS satellite navigation systems help to assist the pilots in plotting the flight course, locating airports as well as calculate distance and time to any destination worldwide.

On-Screen Checklists

As now the checklists are available on the screen, there is no need to search it on the paper.

Faster Interpretation

As glass cockpits give precise data and numbers, now it becomes easier to quickly interpret the altitude, speed, as well as position.

READ MORE: What typically causes flight delays?

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