The cockpit of today’s modern fighter is a tight space, so to speak. If ever there was the perfect example of “strapping the airplane to your back,” this would be it. The Viper, for example, is often referred to as “the world’s smallest (fighter) cockpit.” Of all the jets I’ve had the opportunity to sit in, I would have to agree. I’m a pretty big guy–6’4″ and well over 200 pounds. Once I’m in the seat and all buckled in–seat kit, shoulder harness, and lap belt– it is cramped. My arms brush against the cockpit rails, I can’t extend my legs too far even with the pedals pushed back, and my shins are pressed up against the bottom of the instrument panel.
There is definitely case to be made for memorizing the exact location of the various switches and knobs you need to access to fly and employ your aircraft because in all likelihood, with the extra gear you wear as a fighter pilot, especially for overwater or combat flights, you’re not going to be able to see what you’re reaching for. I know how it is for me, and there are some dudes flying fighters as big or bigger than I am–Demon and Bruiser (Roll ‘Em!), Tank, House, and TABB come to mind. So you can imagine the thrash they too have to go through to reach certain things without pulling a muscle because they can’t move too much or reach with that all crap in the way–long arms and great dexterity not withstanding.
So that brings us to fighters that aren’t (gasp) single seat. Strike Eagles, Hornets, and Super Hornets, oh my. Yes, there are D-models for the F-15, F-16, and F-18 that are *generally* used for training, so for the sake of this conversation, we’ll leave them out (no offense). So let’s pretend you’re a part of a US Navy Super Hornet crew, a WSO specifically, that has just launched off the boat, embarking a long drive to your target area to rain some righteous hatred on our enemies, courtesy of the latest GBU-whatever. If you top off the tanks and continue to press on, you realize you’re hungry. And maybe you’ve forgotten to stow your own snacks in your helmet bag.
But then remember, the dude up front driving has an extra Snickers. So you hop on the ICS and say, “Bro! HABU–Hook A Brother Up!” He instantly knows what you’re talking about, and wants to help his hapless GIB (guy/girl in back), but there’s a problem: the distance from the front cockpit to the rear. Two people strapped in, adorned with full survival regalia, and a chunky ejection seat and instrument panel in the way. It may only be three or four feet, but it might as well be three or four miles. Think even two tall dudes with long arms could safely make that happen without one or both unbuckling their harness? Dream on…
What’s a good friend to do?? Watch…and enjoy.