The primary tool for controlling an aircraft is the flight stick, also called a control yoke. The control yoke is typically situated between the pilot’s legs in front of their seat, rising up from the floor, and is mechanically linked via pulleys and cables. The alternative is a side-stick, situated to the side of the pilot, and is typically placed on or near the armrest of the pilot’s chair. Both side-sticks and control yokes have various advantages and disadvantages associated with them.
One of the greatest advantages of side-sticks is that they are incredibly efficient in terms of space used. Side-sticks are much smaller than control yokes, and take up far less space in front of the pilot. This in turn gives the flight crew a clearer view of their instruments, and gives them more room to move around in when sitting down or getting up from their seat.
Yokes, however, have a major advantage due to being mechanically linked to one another. When a pilot pulls on their control yoke, the twin yoke in front of the co-pilot mimics that movement, due to them sharing the same mechanical linkage. This ensures that both pilots always know what their colleague is doing without having to look over at their flight controls, and prevents them from trying to take control of the aircraft at the same time. Current civilian technology for side-sticks does not provide this kind of information, though there are developments in work to change this and give pilots force feedback with electronically coupled side-sticks that experience each other’s inputs.
Side sticks are also much more sensitive than control yokes, since their range of movement is much smaller. This lets them move much more rapidly, and in turn lets pilots quickly change the course of their aircraft. However, because a side-stick can only be operated by one hand, it can be very difficult for a pilot to use it if their dominant hand is on the wrong side compared to the stick. Control yokes, meanwhile, can be used by either hand because they are directly in front of the pilot.
Currently, most modern civilian jets use fly-by-wire technology, which relies on computers and electric wires to transmit control inputs to the wings and tail of the aircraft. With fly-by-wire tech, either side-sticks or control yokes can be used, whereas aircraft with conventional cables and mechanical linkage are only able to use control yokes.
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