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Here is a question that has been bothering me for a while. Do right-handed fighter pilots use their right hand to hold the control stick? And do left-handed fighter pilots use their left hand?

Or is it the other way around? Or do they maybe use both hands a lot of the time? It also brings up the question as to what the other hand is expected to do and which side of the cockpit the most common control buttons are on.

My guess is that since most people are right handed, they use their right hand. There's also triggers on the yoke so it seems all the more likely that the right hand is used for right-handers.

I'm asking because you look at video games and their controllers. They always use the left joystick for moving the character. In the case of flight simulators, the left joystick is used as the 'stick' or yoke. So you're pretty much left with no choice but to use your left thumb. Not saying this is awkward for video games, however, on those big joysticks for PC games, I remember I always used my right hand.

Also, let's ignore civil commercial piloting because those seem to usually use steering wheel type controls, not a traditional stick. Please let me know if you're a fighter pilot when you answer, because the triggers on the yoke have an effect on which hand you're most comfortable with.

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    $\begingroup$ A large proportion of civil airliners are Airbus aircraft. These all use a side-stick controller. In the left seat the stick is held in the left hand. In the right seat, the stick is held in the right hand. Pilots have to be able to use either hand. $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Sep 27 '14 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks never knew that before. TBH i kinda marvel at that because it just seems so awkward to control a yoke not centered in front of you. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Sep 29 '14 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ most aircrafts are designed for right-handed. Left-handed just adapt. I read somewhere (cannot find the source) that Airbus' studies before launching the A320 (first aircraft with sidestick on the left for the pilot on the left seat) showed that even the right-handed adapt well for using the left hand to pilot. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Sep 29 '14 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ @user1705043 FYI, while it's true that fighter pilots typically fly right-handed, the opposite is true for most civilian aircraft. The pilot-in-command is usually sitting in the left seat with left hand on the yoke or sidestick and right hand on the throttle(s)/thrust levers or whatever other control. Of course, for aircraft with 2-person crews, the FO sits in the right seat and flies with his right hand. This may be the primary reason that a flight-sim game would default to left-handed controls. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 2 '14 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ even with "steering wheel" type controls you only use one hand to operate them with the other hand for the throttle/thrust levers. $\endgroup$ – casey Mar 18 '15 at 1:04
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Most fighter pilots, regardless of their handedness, use their right hand to fly the stick, and their left hand to move the throttle(s)/PCL (Power Control Lever). This is just how most fighter cockpits are set up, with the power on the left side.

Eurofighter Typhoon cockpit

The sticks are also not really usable for a left hander because a few of the buttons would be inaccessible with a left hand on the stick. In some cases (like the F-16), the cockpit uses a sidestick layout, with the stick on the edge of the cockpit, rather than in between the pilot's legs.

F-16 cockpit (note the sidestick on the right and the throttle on the left)

So no, it would not really be possible for left-handed pilots to fly with their left hand on the stick for long periods of time (I will note, that if you need to select something on the right side, most will hold the stick lightly in their left hand for a brief second, actuate the item with their right hand, and then switch back) unless the entire cockpit were redesigned, which is just not worth it.

(I am not a fighter pilot, but I have flown military trainer aircraft that have the same general layout as an actual fighter, and I also know several fighter pilots)

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  • $\begingroup$ I had suspicions that the stick shape was assymetric such that only a right-handed grip was feasible, as the first photo shows, but never imagined a non-centered stick like the F-16. How does that work doing sharp maneuvers? Depending on whether the g-force is to the left or the right, that stick will be hard to push won't it? Wasn't the F-16 designed as a dogfighter? I'm just marvelling at how awkward that side stick seems to me. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Sep 28 '14 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, the F-16 is quite capable of aerobatics but G-forces are much less lateral than longitudinal/vertical (i.e. percieved Gs are pushing you into your seat rather than side to side). Additionally, the F-16 is a "fly-by-wire" aircraft, meaning it is electronically controlled rather than mechanical linkage from the stick. Initially, the stick didn't even move, just sensed the force input by the pilot on the stick. But after that felt weird to pilots/caused strains, they allowed the stick to move, though it remains fly-by-wire $\endgroup$ – SSumner Sep 28 '14 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ I guess that's a good point I never realized. After all, how often do you pull a sharp yaw at 3+ g's? I guess they always roll first and pull back on the stick, making the local g force point down into the seat. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Sep 28 '14 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ @user1705043 To answer your question, hopefully never. Yawing that quickly without banking puts you in a spin (if it doesn't cause the plane to disintegrate first.) Additionally, it means you will have a bad day. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 2 '14 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ Airframes are designed to only be able to load high g-forces towards the belly of the aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Michael C Oct 10 at 13:58
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I am an ex-miliaty pilot and retired airline pilot who is still an active pilot in general aviation. The simple answer is that single seat and tandem seat cockpits are set up with the throttle and trim on the left, so that the stick has to be handled with the right hand.

With a few exceptions side by side cockpits have wheels and the throttle and trim are between the seats so that the pilot in the left seat, usually the pilot in command, uses his left hand on the wheel and the other pilot uses his right hand on the wheel.

I never have trouble switching back and forth, but some people do.

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Its not just fighter planes that have the stick in the right and power in the left. That's the way tandem (front-and-back seating) aircraft are set up in general. You can see the throttle on the left-hand wall in this Citabria:

enter image description here

And gliders and helicopters are also set up with "the stick" in the right hand and "power" in the left.

Even though a glider doesn't have an engine, most of them have some kind of airbrakes, which are deployed just as if it was a throttle. Pushing the lever forward with the left hand decreases drag and pulling backwards increases drag. This isn't the same as thrust, but to a power pilot, it feels fairly natural to push forward to go faster and pull backwards to go slower. The speed brake handle in this glider is the blue handle on the left.

enter image description here

In a helicopter, the right hand (no matter which side the pilot sits on) is for the cyclic, which (for the post part) controls pitch and roll, and the left hand controls the collective and throttle, which together work to add and remove power from the aircraft. This also feels fairly natural to pilots who are used to stick in the right, throttle in the left. The big difference is that the collective is an "up/down" control like a Johnson bar, not a "forward/back" control, and you put it down to reduce power and up to increase power. Furthermore, the throttle, when manually controlled, is a twist grip on the collective, which operates more like a motorcycle throttle. You can see the heli controls in this simulator.

enter image description here

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