Sorry if this seems a too naive question, I'm a complete newbie in this field. The question came into my mind when reading this answer from another thread (second picture).

There you see a photo of the throttle levers for a B747 with the pilot's hand on them. From that picture it seems that there is very little headroom for the pilot's fingers under the "heads" of the levers (unless the perspective of the photo is misleading). I can well imagine a pilot with bigger hands/fingers having some trouble handling the levers, especially in an emergency situation.

IIRC, to get a pilot's certification (at least in some situations) one's height must be within a prescribed range, but are there other less obvious "body size" requirements, such as hand size?

I assume that, especially for airliners, cockpits are designed as a "one size fits all" thing (please correct me if I'm wrong). Would this kind of problems also affects the chances that women (which statistically have smaller body size) can get a certification, despite their technical prowess?

I'm interested in any kind of regulations (civil/military, national/international) and also general facts about this issue (e.g. cases where pilot body size has caused problems).

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    $\begingroup$ Interest only. I have a friend who long ago was the first in the world to ditch a (British Navy) Wasp helicopter in the sea. The manual said to cinch straps tight for impact. The manual did not say that a slightly taller than average pilot could then not reach the throttle to stop the blades ricocheting off the sea and ultimately wrapping around the cabin. Presumably that was subsequently redressed. They both survived essentially unscathed. But wet $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2022 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @RussellMcMahon Wow, that is scary! Plummeting into the sea and realizing you cannot control the thing because you followed procedures! I'm happy he survived! I can only imagine the amount of swearing against the designers (or the writers of the procedures). $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2022 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ it was even better than that :-). Ditching drill in a simulator copter and tank happened occasionally. It was disliked. Nobody had ever needed it. People avoided it. HE avoided it until they finally caught up with him - 1 week before the ditching. One of the requirements is to NOT undo your harness until the copter floods and inverts. He didn't. His companion unlatched early and was washed into the back and he had to rescue them. Better - he held the radio on transmit all the way down - usually a bad mistake. So they have his full commentary recorded - prayers and all. ... $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2022 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ ... - it became the standard Royal Navy ditching training tape :-). Better - they had flown out to a Cruiser? off Plymouth?, England and on the way back experienced very severe vibration. He called in an emergency and then tuned to land on a breakwater. Once facing sewared he found he could not read his instruments due to the extreme vibration. Fully dark and no instruments and ... . Down they went :-) I don't know how high they were at that stage and preseumably he optimised what control he had. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2022 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellMcMahon Whoa! That was a heck of an "adventure" for sure! Well eligible to be transposed into an Hollywood script, IMO. I hope all of the crew made it alive. If the helicopter you mentioned is this Westland Wasp that would have been before the nineties (according to Wikipedia that model was retired in 1988 by Royal Navy). No much help from sophisticated electronic localization equipment back then, I guess. GPS wasn't even fully operational at the time (and maybe not available outside US armed forces, not even for NATO military maybe). $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2022 at 16:17

1 Answer 1


Having flown with pilots ranging from (American) football linebackers to rather petite individuals, I've never seen any issue with manual dexterity. Hands and fingers are really amazing, and the controls in modern aircraft don't tend to be tiny, nor do they require particular strength to actuate. There's probably some Human Factors work going into that, so that the widest possible range of pilots can manipulate them.

In college, there were discussions of tables that would show the 90% and 99% and 99.9% range of all sorts of dimensions, from fingers and hands to sitting height to pupil distance to probably everything else. And designers can use that sort of information to make things so that they're accessible to the broadest possible audience.

Generally, the limitation is with height and reach -- can a pilot sit in the seat and have adequate reach to get the full range of motion on all the controls, and have adequate headroom? That would be more of an issue with a particular aircraft, rather than a general pilot certification issue; just because you can't manipulate the controls adequately in "this" aircraft doesn't mean that you can't do so in other aircraft.

At the Air Force Academy, where some of the cadets are recruited for sports like football and basketball, the Air Force would fly a T-37 and a T-38 out to Peterson AFB so that those who wanted to go to pilot training could sit in the seat and be evaluated in the actual aircraft rather than a mock-up. As I recall the story I heard (I'm not nearly tall enough that it was ever in doubt), if they could close the canopy without contacting the helmet, then the cadet was good to go to pilot training -- on that concern, at least. I would expect that this may continue with the current trainers as well.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting info, thanks (+1). Especially the issue of "reach" and the anecdote about the Air Force (I suppose you mean USAF) flying sportsmen around for "pre-testing". $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2022 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the USAF. And the "test" in the aircraft was just to put on the survival equipment (parachute and helmet, basically), sit in the aircraft, and close the canopy. No flying happened at that point. As I recall it (and this is a while ago, so things may be different now), this check came as cadets were preparing to choose their post-graduation assignments, ie during their senior year. Don't think prospective cadets being recruited had the same opportunity to know if they'd fit. Of course, between ages 18 and 22, height can change, so the check close to graduation would be what matters. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 10, 2022 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ When I was active duty (a long time ago) the published standards were a minimum standing height of 5'4" and a max sitting height of 39". So someone in the 6' to 6'5" range might be disqualified based on body proportions. One issue that came up after women started flying is that there is a minimum weight for ejection seats. If you're too light, the higher acceleration could cause serious injury. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Dec 11, 2022 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ The US Army's airborne regiments had to start issuing different sizes of parachutes when they admitted women. The old standard parachute was made to be adequate for big guys with lots of gear. They found that if the smaller women used such a 'chute, and got into a thermal, they rose rather than descending. $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2022 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ The generally-used requirement is to accommodate the 5th percentile female to 95th percentile male. Mil-std-1472 is the parent document for most human factors work. $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Dec 11, 2022 at 19:41

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