In some of the plane accidents, the pilot had to use all his might to apply the yoke in certain direction to save the plane from imminent crash; in some cases even crew members had to help with the force. So it seems certain degree of physical strength is needed to be a pilot in view of possible emergencies, though it doesn't seem to be explicitly required?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Related, maybe a dupe? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Nov 4 '18 at 2:44

For the Airbus it is not actually require any strength, all the technology is fly by wire, this means that the actual control (Side stick) is not directly connected to any cable, so been this said, there is no actual force to fly any airbus plane. For the Boeing plane, at least for the 737, that's the one I know, when it loses all the hydraulic systems, the aircraft will become on a manual reversion mode and it will need strength from the pilot to move the aircraft controls that are linked to the surfaces by cables, but this is a remote possibility to happen, and if it is the case both pilots can apply force to the control column

  • $\begingroup$ While generally true, it's not correct to say "there is no actual force" required for FBW. Maybe not "actual", but some "simulated" force is required: the controls are artificially loaded so that control was comfortable. This most comfortable force is not zero at all: we rely on force feedback in our muscles to gauge the amount of control precisely. More to it, if the control was too light, it would be too easy to pull a high G accidentally. Su-27 (a fully FBW aircraft) has a particularly heavy stick for roughly this reason, and the pilots not used to it do get tired. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Nov 5 '18 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ The force on the side stick is very little, as it is done by the wrist and not by the full arm (Airbus recommendation practice) so to move the side stick requires a little effort or physical strength, check this web site and look for Pilot correct seating airbus-win.com $\endgroup$ – Carlos Norena Nov 6 '18 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ It's true one doesn't need 'physical strength'; I'm just saying it's still not correct to say that there is 'no force'. A lot of research went into establishing what force (and other characteristics such as damping) would be comfortable for this sidestick. In fact, we control by force, i.e. a certain pressure on the stick results (ideally) in a certain control effect (e.g. vertical acceleration in normal law). $\endgroup$ – Zeus Nov 6 '18 at 23:24

Most transport category jets have hydraulic flight controls where the forces the pilot acts on are through bungee spring devices (a pitch feel unit) in the control cable circuit. For certification, pitch feel units normally limit the force required to move the column to full travel to 50 lbs at high speeds and less than that, say around 30lbs, at low speeds (they are intended to simulate the increase/decrease in control resistance with speed that is felt with manual controls). Most pilots, even small framed males and females, can pull 50 lbs, although sustaining that for more than a few seconds can be a problem. But, there's someone beside to help.

  • $\begingroup$ Someone, like, the Trim Daemon? ;) $\endgroup$ – Zeus Nov 5 '18 at 1:35
  • $\begingroup$ Your FO. If you're lucky, when you get a trim runaway it's nose up so the other pilot can jam their leg against the column to help push. Nose down requires you to take turns pulling. I've done it in sim training and by the time you land your arms are like lead anchors. $\endgroup$ – John K Nov 5 '18 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ John K would "trim runaway" be referring to excessive up or down trim to compensate for out of range CG? (I'm starting to like the Chinook). $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 5 '18 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ No it's when you have electric trim and something happens where it runs on its own until you stop it ,or it gets to full travel. It's a normal training item on jets. $\endgroup$ – John K Nov 5 '18 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ Curious, are jets trimming themselves these days? This would be airliners, I guess the answer would be yes for the B2 bomber. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 5 '18 at 13:50

This question really is way too generic to be easy to universally answer.

The amount of force required to operate the controls of different aircraft under identical conditions is different, varying from very little to requiring some serious muscle.

Now apply that to a wide range of potential emergency scenarios. At the one end we have emergencies where no amount of force will change the outcome either because the relevant controls are no longer there (ripped off vertical stab anyone?) or because their use is irrelevant to the emergency (landing gear not extending on approach for example). On the other end we have emergencies where the controls are jammed but can be moved manually if only enough force is applied to them (e.g. the hydraulics failed, leaving the controls stuck in a high deflection position but they can still be moved if you are strong enough). THAT would require a serious amount of muscle most likely.

But it all depends on the aircraft, the emergency in question, and the flight regime in which the aircraft finds itself when considering whether any amount of input at all will save the day, let alone brute force.


It would be very helpful to narrow this question down as to whether or not "physical strength" is needed due to a failure of a built in mechanical/hydraulic system (like losing power steering in your car), or simply in a cable driven control surface system, found in recreational aircraft.

Enormous physical strength is NOT required to be a pilot, although good mental and physical condition is a must. Endurance of concentration and stamina of strength do help as you may be required to "go around" after a long flight.

More strength is needed at higher speeds due to aerodynamic forces, but that is part of Vne. Please do not imagine three people tugging at the controls to save a Piper Cub.

So, depending on your abilities, careful research and expert instruction will get you going in a plane that suits you.

  • $\begingroup$ Need an explanation for downvote, unless we are into the discriminatory "upper body strength" mode of thought! For what reason was this downvoted? $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 4 '18 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ If a small plane, connected by cables only, is not trimmed properly, it can indeed take some good arm strength to overcome what the plane wants to do, generally pushing or pulling, until you can get the trim set up. Slowing down by throttling back can help also. Turning, not so much strength is ever needed. Just getting out of dive, or overcoming a strong climb when full power is being applied - you don't want the plane to climb up into a stall on you. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Nov 4 '18 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ My biggest problem in the 172 was making sure the seat pins were locked properly, so I would not slide back while climbing out! But as far as strength, it will depend on the plane. Before hydraulics, cable driven systems had counter weights to help make it easier. 5 foot 1 inch Hanna Reitsch flew the mighty Gigant transport aircraft, though she did have some muscles from all the flying she did. I would not discourage anyone with average strength to fly, especially recreational. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 5 '18 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ BTW getting out of a dive - chop throttle first. Overcoming a strong climb - ease up on throttle and push forward. The trim wheel is easily spun. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 5 '18 at 0:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.