I have seen a pilot’s control wheel. I thought it would be round like a steering wheel on a car. But instead it had no top, it was shaped more like a letter U. Why is that ?
Question asked by Ryan
A control wheel on an airplane is a bit of a misnomer. You are correct it is more like a letter U, rather than a full round wheel. The pilot can hold the left side of the U with his left hand and the right side with his right hand. On an airplane the control wheel does not actually turn all the way around, like it does on a car. It can be moved approximately 90 degrees to the left and 90 degrees to the right. The function of an airplane control wheel is to control the roll movement of the airplane. That is why it is called a control wheel and not a steering wheel.
When you move the control wheel the airplane starts to roll. To stop the roll movement, you must move the control wheel back to centre position. If you want to move the wings back to level position again, you must move the control wheel in opposite direction. When the wings are level, move the control wheel back to the centre position. The amount of control wheel movement determines how fast the airplane rolls. Now, as the airplane rolls it also turns in that direction.
For example, if you want the airplane to turn to the left, you move the control wheel to the left. The airplane starts to roll to the left. When the airplane is at the desired angle of bank, move the control wheel back to centre position. As the airplane is now turning, just before you reach the desired direction, or compass heading, move the control wheel in the opposite direction. The airplane will start to roll back towards wings level attitude. When the wings are level, move the control wheel back to centre position. The airplane will stop turning and fly straight ahead.
Some airplanes, like Airbus as well as some jet fighters use a sidestick to control the airplane. It is similar to a joystick used for video games. It is located beside the pilot’s seat (thus the name sidestick). The pilot moves the stick with one hand. He can move the stick left and right for roll control and forward and aft for pitch control.
A bit more about Captain Dan:
Captain Dan Baz enrolled in Flight School at the age of 16.
He has completed studies in Aircraft Engineering and Master of Business Administration. He has been at the controls of many different types of aircraft, from single engine Cessnas to large intercontinental jets on global routes.
Over the last four decades he has flown thousands of hours up in the blue sky.
Have a question for the Captain ? Send it to Captain Dan Baz firstname.lastname@example.org Every week a question from the readers will be selected and answer posted in this column.