A Cockpit Crawl into Naval Aviation History

By Scott Spangler on September 24th, 2018

USN-82Am I the only aviator who wants the pilot’s perspective when examining an interesting aircraft? Or am I suffering from unrequired Walter Mitty daydreams? Either way, with a cockpit crawl of more than a dozen aircraft, from the F11F Tiger to the F-14 Tomcat, the National Museum of Naval Aviation is a hangar of dreams in Pensacola, Florida.

Scattered throughout the museum are more than a dozen cockpit procedure trainers (CPTs), which are exactly like fleet aircraft with their wings and most of their fuselages amputated. Each of them taught naval aviators where to find the necessary system information, and what to look for before they made their initial flights in these (mostly) single-seat aircraft.

Climbing into the F-8 CPT during my first visit to the museum in 1972 is a lasting memory because I fit! But I was 5 inches shorter then, so looking to try it (and any others) on was a premeditated goal of this 21st century visit. Seeing the F11F Tiger (above) and the F-4 Phantom CPTs, both in their Blue Angel uniforms, gave me hope that was not disappointed. It has new paint, but I still fit. (Let the day dreams continue!)

USN-177While there isn’t any power or instrument life in the CPTs, and the canopies don’t close, but the sticks and rudder pedals (and rudder pedal adjustment cranks) still move from stop to stop. They range from the F11F and T-28, which entered service in the 1950s, to the F-14 Tomcat, which retired from active fleet service in 2006.

Making a cockpit crawl in chronological order is not only a first-hand look at the development of the technology they employ but also the advancement in what test pilots call the “pilot-aircraft interface.” The need for naval aviators to be contortionists clearly diminished over the years.

And then there are anthropometrics, the maximum and minimum measurements that play a large role in which pipeline—jets, helos, or multiengine—is open to a prospective naval aviator. It’s more than just standing and sitting height or buttocks to knee length. They measure every aspect of a prospective aviator’s functional reach, and your arms can be too long (as I found out when trying to reach the switches in the back corners of the Tiger’s cockpit) as well as too short.

USN-155The helo cockpits have the most room, with the HH-52 (essentially a single-engine SH-3 Sea King) having much more than the AH-1 Sea Cobra. Subjectively, among the jets, those made by Chance-Vought (the F-8 Crusader and A-7 Corsair II) and Grumman (the F11f and F-14), offered more leg room than those made by McDonnell (the F-4 Phantom) and Lockheed (the S-3 Viking).

The lines of children and adults waiting for the AV-8A Harrier and T-2 Buckeye were a bit longer, and with so much more to see, I didn’t make the time to try them on. Maybe next time. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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