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Home > Flying the Plane > Why a fixed wing captain sits on the left and a helicopter captain on the right?
Why a fixed wing captain sits on the left and a helicopter captain on the right?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 17:05

Airbus A380 Captain sits on the left

Hi Captain Lim,

I was wondering why fixed wing captain sits on the left seat and helicopter captain sits on the right?

Thank you


Hi Ahmad,

The reason why a commercial jetliner captain sits on the left hand seat seems to be rather historical in nature.

During the end of the First World War, most powerful fighter aircraft were designed and fitted with rotary engines. It was found that when it came to steering these rotary-engine aircraft, turns to the left were easier because it follows the torque of the engine whereas turns to the right were harder as it was against the torque (twisting) forces. Hence it would require more rudder movement to compensate for the forces. Because of this, pilots chose to turn left as a more convenient maneuver and thus most traffic patterns in the air around airfields involved mainly left turns.

When bigger planes were designed with side-to-side seating, the co-pilot was made to sit on the right. The left-hand seat was made exclusively for the captain. It comes with complete flight instruments and controls. This seat also afforded better visibility with the assumption that more frequent left turns are made.

So, during the early days of aviation, the fact that the pilot was occupying the left seat made it logical for aircraft to keep to the right side along the airways. Early aviators would often navigate visually by following roads and railways. Opposite traffic along the same line would then pass each other on the left.

Because of the tradition that arose from the rotary engines, jet planes today continue to have the captain sitting on the left-hand side of the cockpit.

Helicopter, on the other hand are generally designed so that the captain sits on the right side of the aircraft. From a practical point of view, this seat enables him to keep his (usually stronger) right hand on the cyclic control at all times leaving the radios and engine to be controlled from his (usually weaker) left hand.

The collective lever, handled by his left hand, is used to increase or decrease the total rotor thrust, whereas the cyclic changes rotor thrust direction.

In a hover (flying stationary), changes in collective pitch will result in a different height above the ground and in a forward flight, changes in collective pitch change the amount of thrust available. This can result in either a change in altitude or speed depending on how the pilot moves the cyclic. The collective lever has twist grip throttle control and works like a motorcycle twist grip

So the collective lever which, while certainly needing to be guarded, can briefly be left alone while the pilot uses his left hand to operate other control such as radio switches.

Because of this practicality, this position is preferred by most helicopter pilots and thus the convention has been maintained.

A Helicopter Captain sits on the right


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Naval history too
I'd always assumed that the passing left to left was part of the nautical legacy that seems to creep into a number of aeronautical terms. In sea navigation passing "port to port" has been the norm for a long time and so it makes sense that this convention would have been adopted by early aviators too.
Alan , 21 Apr, 2011

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