Cockpit Photo

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Frequently Asked Questions...

Question for the Boeing 747.?

I seen a cockpit photo of a Boeing 747, and I looked on the ceiling of the Aircraft and noticed the large number of switches, and buttons. My question is, are those buttons important to the pilots? And do they need to use those buttons/switches in an everyday flight? And...What do the buttons do?

Here's the photo I was looking at.
Great photo btw.

http://www.airliners.net/photo/EVA-Air/Boeing-747-45E/0661305&tbl=COCKPIT&photo_nr=5&prev_id=1162753&next_id=0999209


Answer:

This is a recent version of the airplane, and the flight engineer has been replaced by computerized self-monitoring controls. A lot of what is up there is a simplified version of what used to be on the Flight Engineer's panel. There used to be a lot more buttons and knobs in a 747 than there are now.

Bear in mind that the camera angle in this picture is deceptive. The panel sections up there look like they are a lot more "triangular" than they actually are. They look wider at the back and narrower at the front. That's the camera angle. The panel sections are essentially rectangular.

The wide area of black "domino" switches across the rear of the overhead panel (closest to the camera) is the Electrical Distribution Matrix, which selects the source of power for each of the electrical bussbars and provides circuit protection for all of the zillions of electrical subsystems and devices that run off the bussbars.

Like everything else in the airplane, there used to be a lot more switches; it's all more automatic than it used to be, and the only time you have to mess with it is if a system problem is outside the capability of the computer to decide what to do about it. Then it will squawk at you, and you have to come to its rescue. Doesn't happen often.

Bear in mind that part of your type rating in an airplane like this is knowing ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING known to human science about each one of the systems on the airplane: How it works, how it's made, where all the wiring and piping goes, what happens if it breaks, and how to fix it (or whether it can be fixed).

Actually, Jordan, this picture answers a couple of frequent questions:

a) I'm only five foot one inch tall. Can I be an airline pilot?

The answer is yes, but you may have to loosen your harness and raise up in the seat to reach the last row of circuit breakers. Or even sit up on the arm rest.

b) Do I need a four-year college degree to fly for the airlines?

That systems drill is a big part of the reason why they are only hiring pilots with at least Bachelors' Degrees nowadays. The fact that it does a lot of things automatically doesn't let you off the hook--you have to know what it's doing while you do something else, and why. That doesn't mean you need an engineering degree, but you do have to demonstrate strong learning and study skills. Do you get my drift?

The front part of the overhead includes three more panel sections, also much simpler than they used to be. There used to be lots and dozens of annunciator lights up there to tell you if all systems were functioning correctly or not. Most of those are part of the glass panel now--they show up as text messages on the screen in front of the pilots.

But there are still lots of things going on up there. The left panel above the command pilot's right shoulder is the Safety Matrix. Here are all the fire extinguishers, firewall closures, and other controls you would use if an engine catches fire and you have to play John Wayne.

The middle section is the Hydraulic/Pneumatic Matrix. Selectors and re-routing controls for those systems. Most tubing from there goes to the wings and the center section where the flaps, speed brakes, landing gear, brakes et al have their actuators.

Suppose you have the speed brakes deployed and then you have to go around on short final. You flip the lever, and the left speed brakes stow and the right ones don't. It's going to take fast reflexes and all the rudder and aileron you've got to keep the airplane from rolling inverted right there in front of everybody. Embarrassing.

So the center panel section is where you go in hopes of solving one like that. In many problem situations it may be the most critical panel in the flight deck.

The section over the first officer's chair is Aircraft Systems Matrix, where the controls are for cabin pressurization, fuel system controls, in-flight computers, hull security, and a dozen other things.

As mentioned, this is a really simple layout compared to some older airplanes. For a real thrill, go to airliners.net and look at the DC-4s, DC-6s and 7s, Super Constellations, and others of that era.

Have fun.

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