In 1950, the United States Air Force had a mission-critical problem. Pilots were having trouble controlling their aircraft and, thus, crashes and deaths were on the rise.1
The Air Force was a relatively new military expansion and the country was teetering on the edge of war with Korea. Now was not the time for officials to start losing confidence in their pilots’ ability to fly newer aircraft.
So teams set out to discover the problem. Engineers ran tests on the planes, instructors reviewed their training programs, and investigators considered the possibility of pilot error. However, these factors did not appear to have a significant effect on the planes that had crashed.
It was then that the Air Force considered the experience of the cockpit itself.
Over two decades earlier, the Army had designed the first cockpit based on the average pilot’s height, weight, arm length, and other physical dimensions (see Figure 7-1). The size and shape of the seat, the distance to the pedals and stick, the height of the windshield, and even the shape of the helmets were all built using these averaged measurements.2
If you’ve ever had trouble determining your proper clothing size from the labels Extra Large, Large, Medium, or Small, then you have no doubt experienced the frustration of the “average size.”
It occurred to the Air Force that perhaps the cockpit of their aircraft was too small. After all, with better nutrition and living standards, it was quite possible that the average ...