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Home > Flying the Plane > Flying the Airbus side stick - the one with the fastest thumb wins!
Flying the Airbus side stick - the one with the fastest thumb wins!
Flying - Flying the Plane
Monday, 20 November 2006 22:16

Dear Captain Lim,

I am very happy to see you back. I am aware that you are now flying the Airbus A320. I wanted to know if you like flying the side stick.

Is it easier to fly with side stick than with the control column on the Boeing 777?

Kindly answer my questions please.

Thanking you in advance.


Hi Ravi,

Yes, I was asked about the side stick a number of times when I flew the Boeing 777 but I was not able to give a good opinion then.

At first, I had mixed feelings about the side stick but have gradually got to like it now when I realize that it has gotten rid of the traditional control column and replaced it with a roomy cockpit that has a tray/table for my meals and "office work"!

The transition from the yoke to the side stick takes a little bit of getting used to though. One has to be extremely gentle, as it requires very little force to maneuver the controls. Hence I have learned to fly with my "two fingers" to prevent over controlling the plane!

When it comes to rotation during the take off, I still prefer the Boeing 777 as it is lighter and more responsive whereas the side stick of the Airbus tends to require a heavier force on the wrist.

Some say that the side stick deprives the pilot of the "tactile feedback" whereby the pilot can feel how the plane is behaving. Remember, the A320 side stick employs the fly-by-wire (FBW) technology; any of its movement is interpreted through the "wires" by the flight control computers, which move the flight control surfaces accordingly.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that landing with the side stick was not as difficult as I had imagined. Yes, despite the FBW innovation, there is still the same type of *feel* of the back pressure on the yoke as the Boeing 777 except that the pilot has to manually retard the thrust levers below 20 feet when commanded by the computers on the A320 (RETARD! RETARD!)

A visitor once asked me (was it you?) what happened if the captain moves the side stick to the left and the copilot moves it to the right? My answers were not very clear then, as I was not rated on the A320 yet.

Well, since the side sticks are only "wired", they are not mechanically interconnected like the old conventional planes. The right side cannot feel the movement from the left stick. What happens is that, when there are opposite deflections, their inputs are algebraically added (total sum) with the maximum limit corresponding to the movement of one side stick. If the captain pulls full left, and his copilot pulls full right, the net effect is zero.

So, the last pilot to click on an override push-button on the side stick obtains control (an indicator light in front of the other pilot signals this fact). The potential exists for the pilots to *fight* over the control of the side sticks. Rather than the "strongest" pilot winning, the one with the fastest thumb will win!


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