Has there ever been an airplane where the pilot, or cockpit were not located near the nose of the airplane?

  • 5
    Not a plane, and not really not the nose, but in the Mi-24 helicopter ("Hind") the gunner sits in the nose with the pilot's cabin above/behind. (However, both can shoot and fly if need be.) – sbi Oct 11 '15 at 19:52
  • 9
    Do RC aircrafts count? – Manu H Oct 13 '15 at 12:19

14 Answers 14

up vote 61 down vote accepted

NASA added a second cockpit to their Boeing 737-100, located in the forward cabin.

History is a bit patchy, but I believe this was initially to see if it was possible to fly the plane by camera. This might be required by a supersonic design where windows would be impossible (also known as a 'virtual cockpit'). I understand it has been used for all sort of experiments since then.

NASA 515 is the first B-737 built. First used by Boeing to qualify the 737 for airline service, the prototype 737 has since been heavily modified by NASA. It has two separate cockpits - a conventional B-737 forward cockpit providing operational support and safety backup, and an operational research flight deck positioned behind in what was the aircraft's first-class cabin section.

The full list of projects involving this aircraft are listed on their website.

enter image description here
Credits: NASA

enter image description here
Credits: Museum of Flight

  • 15
    Was there a specific reason why the second cockpit seems to directly use an original plane cockpit, other than the simple reuse of control panel components for the prototype? In particular, did things actually look like depicted in the schematic? The idea that a second cockpit would literally look like the chopped off front section of a second plane mounted into the outer plane otherwise looks like it comes from a bad scifi movie that runs low on set design budget. – O. R. Mapper Oct 11 '15 at 17:21
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    @O.R.Mapper, NASA probably did have a low set-design budget. – Vectornaut Oct 11 '15 at 19:38
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    @Vectornaut: My comment was mostly aiming at the question whether they really painted the inner cockpit the same way as the plane on the outside ;) – O. R. Mapper Oct 11 '15 at 19:40
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    The second cockpit was actually more for testing avionics and navigation equipment, especially for IFR flight, so forward visibility wasn't really needed. There is an interesting report about the test plane that goes into more detail. – fooot Oct 12 '15 at 15:32
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    @O.R.Mapper The may 1979 issue of Popular Science shows a picture of the 2nd cockpit from the rear. It appears to be a freestanding installation like in the graphic; but no other details can be discerned from the camera angle. books.google.com/… – Dan Neely Oct 12 '15 at 17:59

The de Havilland DH.83 Fox Moth put the passenger cabin and engine in front of the pilot

de Havilland Fox Moth
Author: RuthAS, source: Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

  • 6
    This is a better example than the accepted answer IMHO; the NASA 515 is a nose-piloted plane that just had a second cockpit literally bolted on (in) behind the front one. The de Havilland OTOH was designed with the cockpit behind the passenger cabin and engine. Some of the other examples given below are good as well. – Doktor J Oct 17 '15 at 18:59
  • Also Lockheed Air Express - airplanesandrockets.com/airplanes/… – Pete Kirkham Oct 19 '15 at 11:28

Some of the Gee Bee racing planes are obvious candidates. In fact, in one of them the pilot was right next to the tail:

Gee Bee Model R

Gee Bee Model R
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It needs no guessing that the Gee Bee planes were explicitly attempts at shoving the most powerful engine into the smallest and lightest possible air-frame, with the pilot tucked in somewhere. This philosophy, their handling characteristics, and several serious injuries and deadly accidents meant that the models acquired a reputation for being death traps.

  • 1
    Similar: Me 209. – egid Oct 12 '15 at 4:29
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    Jimmy Doolittle disagreed. In the Wikipedia article on the Gee Bee model R Doolittle is quoted (from the Springfield Union of September 6, 1932) as having said, "She is the sweetest ship I've ever flown. She is perfect in every respect...". This was, however, an airplane with a big honkin' engine on the front, small wings, and small control surfaces which did not tolerate inattention on the part of the pilot. Stall or add throttle too fast (or both, in sequence) and they'd smear you across the landscape. Not a beginner's airplane, but flyable. – Bob Jarvis Oct 13 '15 at 11:27

Most of the (single engined) piston aircraft had the cockpit after the engine, This resulted in the cockpit being aft of the wing, like the Supermarine Spitfire.


"Ray Flying Legends 2005-1" by Original uploader was Bryan Fury75 at fr.wikipedia - Transferred from fr.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Padawane using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The F4U Corsair's cockpit was set so far aft that it caused visibility problems for pilots landing in carriers.

F4U Corsair

  • 4
    There are somewhat frequent accidents with WWII era plans running over much smaller planes because of this problem.. you can't see stuff on the ground in front of you, and WWII era planes are considerably larger than many smaller recreational aircraft. – enderland Oct 11 '15 at 21:52
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    Is that really a military aircraft with a big target and "Bozo" written on it? That sounds like a very, very bad idea and a self-fulfilling prophecy. – terdon Oct 16 '15 at 13:39

Many civil and military aircraft between 1920 and 1950 had their pilot in the center of the aircraft, or further aft. Random selection:

1922: De Havilland
1922: De Havilland DH37 (source).

Not really aft, but interesting offset from the longitudinal axis:
1938: Blohm and Voss BV 141
1938: Blohm and Voss BV 141 (source).

1939: SAI Ambrosini SS.4
1939: SAI Ambrosini SS.4 (source).

1942: F4U-1
1942: F4U-1 (source).

1944: Spitfire 1944: Spitfire Mk 19 (source).

  • 6
    Just collect all tandem-seater trainers where the pilot sits in the aft seat so the trainee will not change the center of gravity. They all need to be flown from the back seat. – Peter Kämpf Oct 11 '15 at 12:55
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    Wow, that 1938 Blohm and Voss BV 141 has to be about the ugliest plane I've ever seen – Kevin Oct 12 '15 at 22:12
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    @Kevin: You'll like them too: Caproni Stipa | V-173 | Y.1S | XG-85 | M-57 | X-24A, ... – mins Oct 13 '15 at 17:53
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    @Polyergic No, the design of the Falcon was changed at the last minute from something that looked too much like the Eagle from Space 1999. The shape is said to be inspired by a half-eaten hamburger next to an olive on a stick. The Falcon's cockpit is definitely inspired by the B-29. – Schwern Oct 13 '15 at 21:23
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    @mins, the Caproni Stipa looks like it was the inspiration for Bullet Bill from Super Mario Bros. – Kevin Oct 14 '15 at 15:26

The 1906 plane of Santos-Dumont was controlled from the rear side.

Alberto Santos-Dumont's 1906 plane

The plane of Santos Dumont

More classes of aeroplane that meet the brief:

All these are remotely piloted vehicles - the pilot is nowhere near the aeroplane, let alone the nose.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

enter image description here
MQ-3 Reaper (Source: Wikipedia, US Government, Public Domain)

enter image description here
RQ-4 Global Hawk (Source: Wikipedia, USAF, public domain)

Target Drones

enter image description here
QF-4 Phantom (Source: Flickr, user Theo Van Vliet)

enter image description here
QF-16 drone (Source: USAF, public domain)

Experimental or research RPV

Nasa crashed a Boeing 720 to investigate the properties of Anti-misting Kerosene (AMK)

Some years later, a Boeing 727 was crashed into the Mexican desert to investigate cabin forces and survivability

  • 3
    Cheeky. A nice answer to the question though, if not the spirit of the question. – digitgopher Oct 11 '15 at 22:14
  • Heh, I remember seeing the coverage of that 720 test crash and its rather spectacular failure. – FreeMan Oct 12 '15 at 18:42
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    That 720 anti-misting kerosene test was not a "test failure", but rather a "no test". The airplane deviated in yaw and roll from the intended landing orientation, and the ground-mounted cutters that were supposed to cut the fuel lines, but miss the engines, instead smashed an engine housing. The crash dumped jet fuel directly onto exposed engine hot section parts, which was NOT what was intended. NOTHING will prevent or even mitigate a fire in that scenario. – John R. Strohm Oct 12 '15 at 20:07

Adding to the excellent existing answers, flipping through my copy of The World's Worst Aircraft (because we've learned putting the pilot anywhere but the nose is a terrible idea), I find some... umm... interesting and unique pilot arrangements.

The B.E.9 placed the pilot behind a large protruding pod where the gunner sat in front of the propeller. As you can imagine, gunners were not thrilled with this arrangement.


The "Boeing" (actually a US Army design, Boeing just built it) GA-2 had the pilot in an armored housing in the middle of and on top of the airframe.

Boeing GA-2 photo from the Ray Wagner Collection

The Loening PW-2 was a "high"-wing monoplane with the pilot sitting under a wing mounted so low they had no forward visibility. And this was a pursuit fighter! That's ok, the pilot could see fine when the poorly attached wing tore itself off.

Loening PW-2 photo from the Ray Wagner Collection

  • Please attribute your photos – CGCampbell Oct 13 '15 at 12:41
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    @CGCampbell All are in the public domain by now. They're attributed to their collections in the image descriptions, except the first which I don't have a source for. Would you like something different? – Schwern Oct 13 '15 at 17:45

It's not technically an airplane, but I thought I might mention the BV-347, which was an experimental variant of the CH-47 Chinook that Boeing built in the late 60's. Changes included a longer fuselage, retractable wheels, and a pair of rotatable wings.

However, one of its weirdest features was a gondola that could be lowered which faced the rear of the helicopter. It had a set of controls and the helicopter could be flown from there. The gondola is the mesh structure below the nose.

The gondola is the mesh structure below the nose

So not only could the BV-347 be flown from a position that wasn't the nose, it wasn't even facing forward!

  • 2
    Good find! Interesting - the 2nd picture doesn't appear to have the swing wing of the first – FreeMan Oct 12 '15 at 18:38
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    Please attribute your photos – CGCampbell Oct 13 '15 at 12:43
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    @FreeMan, It looks to me like the wing is in the second picture, but we're looking at it edge-on, so it's almost invisible. The rear is just above the second black circle from the left (I assume a window), and you can see the shadow of the wing as a black stripe just under the wing itself. – MichaelS Oct 14 '15 at 5:32
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    @MichaelS My understanding is that they did actually remove the wing in the latter stages of testing. From what I remember (I'm on my phone at the moment but I will try and find the source later) they determined that while the wings led to a significant increase in performance, they also led to a substantial increase in pilot workload. I believe Boeing then removed the wing to assesses the performance of the other modifications, such as the longer rotor blades, and lengthened fuselage. I'll see if I can find where I read that when I'm next at my computer. – user1801 Oct 14 '15 at 5:44
  • I guess I'm just seeing the stubs where they removed them. This page has some more detailed images and it does seem the wings would droop down and be more obvious even from the edge. – MichaelS Oct 14 '15 at 5:55

Cheating a bit:

X-24B (a lifting body test craft that helped validate the concept for the space shuttle):
enter image description here
(Credit: NASA)

Cheating quite a bit more:

The F-82 Twin Mustang:
enter image description here
(Credit: USAF, Jack Dean.)

White Knight II:
enter image description here
(Credit: D. Miller. http://www.flickr.com/photos/fun_flying/3820887625/.)

Since you didn't specify the type of aircraft, here is one type not controlled by nose :)

This is what we do all weekend (Although that is not me)

enter image description here
Image source: https://cdn.gardenidea.us/medium/4/jet%20rc%20airplanes.jpg

In a similar vein to the BV-347 example the Erikson Air Crane company operates a Sikorsky S-64 Air Crane with a rear facing cockpit that allows a pilot to fly the aircraft with a less restricted view than they would have from the cockpit - especially helpful when trying to precisely place an item it is carrying/delivering.

Black arrows denotes where the cockpit is.

enter image description here

  • 2
    The main flight cockpit still faces forwards though. – veryRandomMe Oct 12 '15 at 21:21
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    As does the main cockpit of the BV-347 and NASA 515. Key is that all 3 could be flown from the auxiliary/secondary cockpit. – FreeMan Oct 13 '15 at 20:46

Neither the Lilienthal glider nor the Wright Flyer were "nose-controlled".

(Depending on how you define "aircraft".)

In the early days, the weight of the pilot pretty much defined the center of gravity, which had to be near the center of the aircraft.

Lilienthal glider, picture from Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Lilienthal glider, picture in the Public Domain.

Wright Flyer, picture by D Ramey Logan

Wright Flyer picture CC BY-SA 4.0 by D Ramey Logan.

Others have given answers with lots of examples and pictures. I wanted to point out the historic angle:

Aircraft didn't become "nose-controlled" until rather recently. In the beginning, the pilot was nearer to the center than the nose.

  • That's a very good point, it makes me look at the images again with another eye. – mins Oct 15 '15 at 5:58

In the Boeing 747 the pilots sit quite far behind the lower deck of (usually) first class seats downstairs. Quite noticeable in row 1 when the plane passes through hail.

747 cutaway

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