Suppose that a first officer were left-handed and a captain were right-handed. Both are NOT ambidextrous. Even after training, what if their weaker hands' control and degree of versatility
remain worse than their dominant hands'?

In other words, in commercial (and not just military) cockpits, joysticks (on the side) must be grasped with only one hand. But does this fact presuppose or require perfect ambidexterity?


3 Answers 3


I can't speak for all pilots everywhere, but I've flown both sticks and yokes from both the right and left seat (as well as the front and the back seat in tandem aircraft) and found the adjustment process between switching from right to left hand to be very quick. I found getting used to sight picture differences to be a much bigger challenge and, like many others before me, sideloaded my first few landings (along with climbing/descending during turns) until I got the hang of it.

Other pilots I've spoken to about this have expressed the same feelings; there is a learning curve, but it is by no means insurmountable. At any rate, flying is far more of a mental activity, with masterful physical coordination being surprsingly far down the list of innate qualities a pilot needs.

And no, I am not nearly ambidextrous; in fact, my coordination abilities with my non-dominant hand are hilariously poor, as anyone who's ever watched my try to toss a tennis ball during a serve can attest.


No, flying with your non-dominant hand is not really an issue at all. In fact, most pilots learn to fly with their non-dominant hand, even in aircraft with traditional yokes. This is because most airplanes are designed to be flown from the left seat and most people are right-handed. When in the left seat, you fly with your left hand on the yoke and your right on the power (or other controls, as necessary.) When in the right seat, you do the opposite.

As far as the amount of force is concerned, for larger aircraft, the force you have to apply to the stick is created more or less artificially (or, at least, it's mechanically scaled down, such as with pneumatics/hydraulics.) In newer aircraft with electronic controls, the resistance force to the pilots' input is created entirely artificially. If the controls were linked directly to the yoke in a large/fast aircraft (think a jet airliner,) it would be physically impossible to manipulate them by hand, due to the forces being applied to the control surfaces by the wind. Small aircraft, however, do often have direct linkages from the controls to the control surfaces, but, even so, it's very normal to fly them with your non-dominant hand, even for pilots who have never flown before.

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    $\begingroup$ there are also ways to use aerodynamic forces to servo the controls; DC-9 family aircraft do not have hydraulic boost for their ailerons and elevator under normal conditions, for instance. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2015 at 22:59

Can you drive a car with either hand on the steering wheel at a time? I know I can. I can also hold a hold with either hand and control the plane without any noticeable differences.

I think hand dominance only comes into play when it comes to more precision, dexterous things like writing. Flying, however, is done with feel for the most part so as long as you know how to fly with the forces felt on the hand from the controls, there shouldn't be any problem using either hand.

Another analogy is with bicycles. I noticed some people can't ride with just one hand on the handlebars because they end up pushing the side of the handle bars they are holding and thus causing the bike to turn. Usually, such people can't ride with one hand with either hand. Why? Controlling a bike isn't exactly a precision thing where precise angles are achieved. Rather, its done by feel so if you can ride bike with one hand, you can do so with the other.

  • $\begingroup$ Also, in the case of a bike, you usually don't have anything to rest your arms on, so if you're driving a bike with just one hand, the weight of your arm is going to be constantly pulling in that direction. With two hands, those forces balance out, making it much more comfortable. In an airplane or a car, you can usually rest your steering arm on your lap or an armrest, so you don't need to use both hands most of the time, at least not for the same reason as with a bike. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Apr 22, 2015 at 13:42

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