Why are airplane cockpits called that? The origin of this name dates back to the first human-controlled planes. Here is why such a name emerged.
The Wright Flyer, also known as the Kitty Hawk or the Flyer I, didn’t have a cockpit. It made the first sustained flight by a manned airplane on 17 December 1903, but its pilot Orville Wright, age 32 at the time, was controlling the plane while laying belly down on its wing.
However, soon after airplanes had cockpits, this name for the area with aircraft controls stuck for the rest of the time. But why? What is a “cockpit”?
While the Wright Flyer didn’t have a cockpit, planes that followed soon did. For example, Louis Blériot’s planes had a pilot’s area, which was called a “cockpit”. In fact, in 1913 the word “cockpit” in aviation was already widely used.
Soon after, it came to the automotive world and some other areas. Now Formula 1 drivers are making themselves comfortable in cockpits, fighter pilots work in cockpits, and pilots that are controlling the Boeing 737 taking you to your holiday destination are also sitting in a cockpit at the front of the airplane’s cabin.
As Quara.com user Cody Kent noted, the name “cockpit” was already in use in sailing vessels. In fact, sailing vessels were described using this word in the 17th century. Aviation took a huge chunk of its terminology from the naval world. That is why we start our flights from airPORTS, airplanes are known as a type of airCRAFT and the distances they fly are often measured in nautical miles.
In nautical dictionaries, a cockpit is a workplace of a cockswain (coxswain) – a person who is in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. So a cockpit is a place where a cockswain works. But there is another version as to where planes got their cockpits from.
As Jim Gordon, USAF veteran, international aviation and air transport specialist and journalist noted, the word “cockpit” could have been chosen, because those early enclosed pilot positions resembled cockpits – small round enclosures in which cocks are thrown in to fight. Cockfighting has been a spectator sport for thousands of years and a small arena for gamecocks was sometimes called a cockpit.
Some believe that the early aircraft pilots could have enjoyed observing cockfighting, even if they didn’t have gamecocks of their own. It was a popular entertainment at some point – especially in Europe, where the first aircraft cockpits were developed and, probably, named.
Which one of these versions sounds more believable? Well, boat cockpits could have been named independently from cock fighting. And since early aviation took many words from the nautical world, it does seem likely that the cockpit came from ships rather than bird-fighting arenas.