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Question about the difference in the left and right seat controls on Airbus
This is my first post to this forum, so I apologize in advance if I violate standard conventions or if I misdirected this post.
I am an experienced software designer (37+ years in the business) of real-time and embedded software such as that found in aircraft. Although I do not have much direct experience with aircraft software -- except for two years working on aircraft simulators at CAE in the late 70's -- I am quite interested in some aspects of usability in cockpit controls.
A question that has always plagued me was whethe the fact that the joysticks for the captain and for the f/o in an Airbus are for different hands caused any difficulties in controlling the plane. About 10 years ago (before the days of locked cockpit doors), I had a chance to fly from San Jose to Toronto in the cockpit of an Air Canada A320. I asked the pilots whether this was a problem, but, to my surprise, they said that it wasn't.
Still not fully convinced, I am hoping that the experienced folks on this forum can provide me with definitive feedback on this point.
If I understood you correctly, real issue you have is not about Airbus controls per se but about having to steer the aeroplane with one hand only.
It's not a problem at all. Even if you fly aeroplane with yokes, horn for your inboard hand is used only on takeoff and initial climb. For all the other flight phases, outboard hand is on yoke, inboard on throttles. Captains fly with left hand, first officers with right, type rating instructors (or line training captains) use whichever they need, depending whether they instruct future capt or F/O on particular day.
Personally, I went from from flying C-172 with left hand to ATR-42 with right to A320 with right to Q400 with left. Never had any problems adjusting and never heard of anyone who had.
Thanks for the response, Clandestino. This almost answers my question. However, since most people are not ambidextrous, I was curious whether it makes a significant difference in feel and ability to the pilot if he or she is using the joystick on the left versus the one on the right?
Given that I am extremely clumsy when I have to do things with my left (e.g., handwriting), it would seem that this would be a usability issue in cockpit design. But, from what I have been told, it seems not to be one for professional pilots.
Well, I'm not test pilot or ergonomics expert. I'm only humble line pilot and I have never dwelt upon the issue of being right handed and having to steer with the left. I simply went out and flew and it turned out fine.
You might find interesting that I did my basic aerobatic training on Zlin-142, side-by-side aerobatic trainer in which student sits on the left, instructor on the right. For take off and climb I set left hand on the stick, right was used for center throttle, prop, mixture and flaps. However, once aerobatics were to begin, right hand went to stick (both pilots have one each, mounted on the floor in front of each of them and not sidesticks as in Cirrus SR20), left went to throttle mounted on the extreme left of the instrument panel. For approach and landing it was back to left hand - stick, right hand - all the rest. No problems there for me, or anyone else on my course for that matter.
My uneducated guess is that stick-stirring is not in the same precision league as handwriting is.
Here's a (simple) comparison - Try steering your car with the left hand and then with the right hand only.
The movements themselves for controlling the aircraft are fairly straight forward. Push, pull, left and right.
When it comes to something like hand writing, remember how long it took as a child to teach your brain and hand, and to build up the muscle memory to make those small, precise movements. Compare this to steering left and right in your car.
I'm not trying to say that flying doesn't involve precision, or isn't an artform in the right (or left ) hands just that I don't think (or haven't experienced) an issue when it comes to controlling with the left or right on yoke or side stick.
Thank you all. I think I have my answer now. Your posts have been very helpful.
To summarize: It seems that the reason right-or-left is not an issue is that the resolution required for adequate stick/aircraft control is relatively low. Such resolution can be achieved easily with either hand and does not require the extra precision of the dominant hand.
BSelic, just to muddy the water.
Some military aircraft were L/R handed e.g Lightning T5. Whilst most operations could be accommodated as described in previous posts, some ‘high gain’ manoeuvres were judged as more difficult, e.g. formation flying and air-to-air refuelling.
The refueling task and on occasion formation flying, might have been complicated by the L/R seating position – the probe was on the left wing and thus refueling from the right seat required a different set of visual references – apart from different aerodynamic effect between single and two seat aircraft – see the two posts here Lightning.
There was a similar disparity in the radar hand controlled ‘side stick’ (23+ different functions?).
Familiarity with use provided an appropriate level of expertise for instruction, but in demanding situations (low level / ECM), left seat radar control was favoured - the more familiar operation and one which had training simulation available.
It may be of interest to seek an Airbus pilot’s view who has evaluated some of the air-air refuelling proposals.
I agree with the other posters who say using the apparent wrong hand to fly is not a problem. Most of us faced with the issue have expected problems but half way round the first circuit have forgotten all about it.
I am however not happy when you deduce this is because the resolution required to fly is much less than that needed for say handwriting. I do not see this follows at all. I think the difference between the nature of these two tasks is such that there could be much more to the explanation than the simple measure of resolution. In fact I can point to flying tasks where the resolution needed (for a successful outcome) is much higher than that needed for writing.
The "FEEL" of the flight controls/manoeuvre are very important. Stick force per g is vital and test pilots are intent on achieving control harmony. In my day in the mid 1900s a fighter's desireable SF/g was around 5 pnds and for a heavy around 11 pnds per g if I remember rightly. John Farley?
With the advent of fly by wire and side sticks all of the feel forces changed with stick force per g settling out at about 3 pnds for a fighter. But we humans have differing directional strengths in the wrists so these are allowed for in the software controlling the pilot's inputs. This results in there being totally different forces per resultant manoeuvre between left and right side sticks. The intent is to produce control harmony with either stick by accounting for the differing force feel of our left and right wrist movements.
Any pilot would be hard pressed to fly accurately if he was able to use the wrong hand on a side stick.
Thanks again to the subsequent posters. I withdraw my hasty conclusion -- although I must admit that I am confused again about the answer. What I venture to conclude is that there seems to be a consensus on the following:
- pilots do not seem to find the differences between right- and left-hand sidesticks to be a problem
- in some cases, stick control requires a precision that is at least comparable to writing. (By the way, I do know the importance of the "feel" on control columns, because we were very careful to get those right when I worked on aircraft simulators many years ago -- in fact, I designed the flight controls analog circuits that did that).
It is the combination of the two above taken together that puzzles me, because they do not match my experience (in general -- I am not a pilot).
If I interpreted Milt right, the forces are adjusted individually to match the weaker/stronger hand -- or did I misinterpret this? (An interesting question then is if there is an option to accommodate left-handed people.)
You misinterpreted my poor explanation. Each hand has differing strengths for rotating the sticks forward compared with backwards and perhaps even greater differences when applying roll one way or the other. To achieve harmony the force required for a particular roll rate will differ for each stick because our muscles rotate our wrists more strongly in one direction than the other.
Then again if we want the controls to assist in limiting maximum positive and negative g applications we will want to adjust the slope of the SF/g curve to suit the standard man's wrist strengths forward and backwards. I think we can pull a side stick with more force than we can push.
To complicate the whole problem will be the differing angles of movement of particular side sticks before you reach stops and the need for flight control systems to have Q feel . (ie. indicated airspeed).
I grew up on the central control stick (L or R hand) Chippy, and threw my young self into the first Victa Airtourer with relish. It was, to the best of my knowledge, the first 'side' stick light aircraft, in that it's single central stick had a large spade handle, which was in theory was able to accommodate two hands.
I aerobat-ed to excess, (dee-lightful, even on 100 horses,) then later taught formation & aerobatics in them, and can say that yes, there was an initial early-day young instructor rating awkwardness when changing seats, but that evaporated within about 30 minutes of the first training session. The Victa had a roll rate of 120 degree/sec, zero control slop and the 100hp version was a light as a feather around all 3 axis. Too sensitive really, for a trainer. I would teach people to fly (& later aerobat) with their little finger gently pressed up against to bottom of the top cross bar of the spade stick hanle, so as to teach them the subtly control movements needed. All little fingers seem to work much the same, L or R <grin>. The brain flies the seat to keep the eyes happy using the best means available, adjusting accordingly, it would appear.
Similarly, after a lifetime cleaning my teeth with a tooth-brush in my right hand, a broken wrist had me needing to swap, and it only took 3 'sessions' to become fully ampidextrous.
I also flew the very early A-320 as PI, and in training I asked training Capts totally new to side-sticks how they felt about it, and universally they (all two of them) had had zero difficulty. Beyond initial exposure it was a non event, other than to remark at how well a side-stick cleaned a cockpit up.
The A-320 feel (or total lack of it, other than for a few springs) was obviously well enough designed for that limited job, although procedures are definitely slanted to button pushing. Lack of manipulative currency quickly revealed itself in the simulator, when 'flying' the low weather circuits then required to be demonstrated. (400' clearance night min vis circuit from low res approach & break-off.) That is a whole different thread.
That helps, JenCluse. Again, I am very grateful for all the replies, which are helping me pinpoint the answer to this seeming mystery.
I notice, by the way, that the the respondents who are particularly positive that sidedness doesn't matter all live in Australia, which, after all, is upside down and where people drive on the wrong (uh, I mean..left) side of the road. So, I guess they are all used to things being backwards.
Just kidding, of course. Your responses are much appreciated.
I find this is an interesting topic and often wondered why none of us in aircraft certification worried about this. Perhaps it is because I am one of those left-handed pilots. It never bothered me until 777 training. I had a lot of trouble with using my left hand for the cursor control device on the center console. In spite of being left-handed, I couldn't use a mouse or a trackball with my left had. I was finally able to use on - after a fashion - after months of practice.
Using the stick or yoke has never been a problem. It must be the difference in using arm versus had muscles.
I just finished reading an article by the folks at Calspan on simulator evaluations using a sidestick. They had nine pilots (3 left and 6 right-handed) perform a bunch of aggressive maneuvers using left hand and right hand sidesticks.
There was a noticable loss of performance when flying using the non-dominant hand and the pilots reported higher workload.
This is a very interesting point. Although I don't fly large transport aircraft I do have a flight instructor rating, and as such, I need to fly on the right as opposed to the left. I also fly from the left if I am taking any flying courses or renewals etc.
For the vast majority of pilots the changeover is easy to get use to after an hour or two. If you try to get a right handed pilot to catch a ball with his left hand though that is not so easy.
This must prove that hand eye co-ordination actually in fact plays a very small role in becoming a good pilot. Good handling skills come from aircraft knowledge more than anything else.
BSelic, I think the answer is that one learns to adapt. Using the car analogy, most people can drive with either hand on the wheel. However, place them in a car car with opposite drive, ie left hand drive for me, and it takes a little while to feel fully comfortable and ability varies with workload. Experience makes it easier - I drive on holiday, Mrs Dog doesn't. Apart from a Flying Scholarship in a C-150, my training was RAF - Bulldog, Tucano, Hawk etc. Stick in the right hand, throttle/power lever in the left. Looking at formation, this lead one to be more comfortable looking left. The body naturally faces slighty left; note how most pilots turn left given a choice. When I was given the proud opportunity to fly multi engined aircraft, the left hand now held the yoke; the right hand the throttles. One doesn't realise the difference, or at least I didn't until I formated like this. Sub-consciously, my left hand still controlled forward-aft movement, right hand up and down! The formation effects presented to the eye compared to my apparent inputs was amusing! Nevertheless, we learnt and it is interesting that we conducted Nimrod AAR from the left hand seat and only the 'gifted' AAR instructors flew from the right hand (yet 'conventional' single seat) position. If you look at the probe, it favours neither seat! I now formate happily, effectively and safely in both cockpit and flight deck environments; and fly (and instruct) in both left and right hand seats of multi aircraft. Incidentally, the initial problem I had with side-stick, fly by wire controls was controlling the aircraft attitude and not the flight path! I had to go very open loop in both seats! I hope this answers you question.
Last edited by Snow Dog; 7th Sep 2010 at 15:42.
Reason: Line added after looking at picture.