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Is there a specific reason why in most fighter planes, the control column is between the pilots legs instead of on the sides like Airbus airliners? I know the F-16 has sidesticks, but most of the others have it in the middle.

F-16 Cockpit with sidestick

enter image description here F-15 with centerstick

Images from Wikipedia

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  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of What are design or functional differences between sticks and yokes? $\endgroup$ – Simon Jan 4 '16 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ Related, but doesn't provide the answer: Centre stick (a voluntary to contribute to Wikipedia if the answer is given here?) $\endgroup$ – mins Jan 4 '16 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon Nothing related to what I am asking $\endgroup$ – SMS von der Tann Jan 4 '16 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ Check when they were built. Most of the current generation seem to be side stick, contrary to what you claim in your question. $\endgroup$ – egid Jan 4 '16 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ I remember something once about why a side stick was chosen for some fighter jet design (I forget which one in relation to this statement) - during high-G maneuvers, the arm-rest would help support the pilots arm. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 4 '16 at 20:40
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At present, it appears to be a design choice rather than any other thing.

Most of the present generation fighters are transitioning to side-mounted sticks from center sticks. Almost all of the US combat aircraft have side-sticks. In Europe, it's somewhat of a mix- Typhoon (and Gripen) have center sticks, while Rafale has a side stick. The Russians are sticking to a center stick in the T-50.

The location of the control stick depends on a number of factors:

  • Ergonomics- Side stick is better in this regard, limiting the display area in the center; this might be a problem in smaller cockpits.

  • One of the reasons for using side stick in F-16 was that it (the hand-rest) supported the Pilot's hand during high 'g' maneuvers, along with the inclined seat (which is also being used in a number of aircraft).

  • There is also the personal choice- some pilots may prefer using a center stick, and others, the other way around (there seems to be little problem in transitioning from one to another).

Historically, combat aircraft have had center sticks. Side sticks have come about after fly-by-wire controls. Eurofighter has the following to say in this regard:

Every military aircraft cockpit design has to be something of a compromise, but in a small cockpit, a center stick can cause particular ergonomic difficulties, perhaps limiting the size of the display area for the instruments and/or screens ... That is when options are considered, and one of those would be the sidestick as used in the F-16. However, if the cockpit is sufficiently large and the geometry of the seating position is correct, there is no reason to have anything other than a center stick—and the pilots of the four partner nations agreed. The choice between center sticks and sidesticks is 40% personal—the balance being on technical grounds. We find that F-16 pilots convert easily and naturally to a center stick.

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  • $\begingroup$ It would be interesting to hear what the "technical grounds" for preferring center sticks are. As a layman without any particular relevant experience, I find it difficult to imagine them by myself. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jan 5 '16 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ A complete guess, but center stick allows for a longer stick and therefore more force. Could be important when you don't have any kind of hydraulics. $\endgroup$ – Masse Jan 5 '16 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Masse Please note that side-sitck is found in ony fly by wire control aircraft. While you may be correct that in small GA aircraft longer stick equals more force, in modern combat aircraft like Eurofighter Typhoon, the size and movement of the center stick is no more or less than the sidestick. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Jan 5 '16 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ I assumed the center stick was historical, meaning that when the first (fighter?) aircraft were developed, the stick was located in between the pilot's legs because that was the best place that all the control linkages could be run to. Is that not a factor at all? $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox Jan 5 '16 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddWilcox I guess it comes under the 'personal' column. :) However, when you're trying to squeeze every drop of performance from your aircraft and pilot to avoid getting killed, history is of little value. Also, with fly-by-wire, it doesn't matter where the stick is. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Jan 6 '16 at 0:39

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