Yokes Vs Side Sticks – Aircraft Controls Compared

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Today we thought we would take a look at yokes compared to side sticks and what advantages they have over the other. A yoke, commonly known as a control column, is a device used for piloting the majority of fixed-wing aircraft. A pilot uses the yoke to control the plane in both pitch and roll. By rotating the control wheel, they can control the ailerons and the roll axis.

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Modern airliners use fly-by-wire technology Photo: Getty Images

Up and down movement of the yoke controls the elevators and the pitch of the aircraft. Before computerization and in many mainly small planes still built today, the yoke was connected directly to the control surfaces by a series of cables and rods. This meant that muscle power was needed to fly the aircraft.

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Hydraulics

Later, as manufacturing advanced, larger aircraft incorporated hydraulics to help pilots control the plane. Many of today’s aircraft now operate using a fly-by-wire system in which the movement of the yoke or control column sends a corresponding signal to an actuator connected to the control surfaces.

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Boeing aircraft all use a control column. Photo: Getty Images

Aircraft yokes come in a variety of styles, with the most common being shaped like a “U” or “W” while Brazilian-built Embraer aircraft features an “M” shaped yoke.

The side stick approach

Before Airbus introduced its A320 family of jets, all commercial aircraft flew using some kind of a yoke. The idea for creating a side stick cannot be credited to Airbus, however, as it was first introduced in fighter jets like the General Dynamics F-16. Designers came up with the concept to allow pilots an unobstructed view of the center multi-function display panel.

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Sidesticks also freed up the necessity of using two hands on the control column and operated much in the same way as a control stick on a computer game console. Fixed-wing military aircraft designers found that replacing the control column with a side stick offered the following advantages:

  • It created more room in the cockpit
  • It provided an unobstructed view of the center control panel
  • It freed up one hand, allowing the pilot to write on a knee pad
  • It was better for making rapid control inputs and dealing with high G-forces
  • It was more suitable for high gain tasks such as aerial refueling, gun tracking, or aircraft carrier landings.

Airbus

In 1985, Airbus used what the military discovered and introduced the side stick control to commercial aviation on the A320. By pairing the side stick with new computer technology, Airbus could reconfigure and simplify the cockpit. The single-handed control stick also made for a more comfortable experience for the pilots and provided more space to interact with other cockpit components.

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A320 Cockpit
All Airbus aircraft have a side-stick. Photo: Airbus

Airbus decided to adopt the sidestick to offer an alternative to the Boeing 737 in the highly competitive narrowbody market. Following its success with the A320, Airbus decided to make the side stick a standard feature on all its aircraft. While Airbus has fully embraced the side stick, Boeing continues to do what it has always done and has a control column in its planes.

Do you think Boeing will one day introduce side sticks? Please tell us what you think in the comments.

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