Plane Cockpit Familiarization

There are several techniques one can use for plane cockpit familiarization including chair flying, haptic memory and visualization. The importance of boldface procedures shouldn’t be undervalued too.


In aviation, the main mantra is to aviate, navigate & communicate in that particular order. In order to accomplish this effectively, it is important that the pilot is intimately aware of his/her cockpit and the position of all switches in the cockpit so that in case of a smoke/fumes event or any unforeseen emergency, the pilot can execute the required checklists/procedures without ever seeing the switches.

There are several ways to familiarize oneself with the cockpit of a new plane. Some of these techniques include chair flying, visualization, developing muscle memory, and haptic memory. 

Aviate, Navigate & Communicate

In any emergency, the first action should be to check if the airplane is stable or not, it should be flying wings level and should not be in any unusual attitude (nose high, nose low, etc.). The aviate part ensures that the pilot is satisfied that the aircraft is under control and flying in a controlled manner.

The next step is navigate. This step ensures that the aircraft is headed where the pilots want it to go and it is not headed towards an imminent collision with the ground or high terrain.

The last step concerns communicating the crew’s plight to controllers on the ground or to technical representatives that can help the pilots in troubleshooting the problem.

plane cockpit familiarization
Familiarizing yourself with the cockpit and memorizing the layout is a very important basic first step of any flight

For more regarding the golden rule for pilots, please click the link below:

How To Be An Effective Pilot

To become an effective pilot, you need to know your plane inside and out. The same can be said for any new type of aircraft that you are going to fly – they are not all the same! Each cockpit is subtly different, from the instrument panel, control panel layout and overhead panel to the placement of flaps and engine systems, and more subtle features like circuit breaker position, pilots seats and layouts.

Before a flight, it’s best if we get familiar with the aircraft and aircraft systems by knowing where all relevant controls are located as well as how they function so that when things go wrong or unexpectedly arise during flight time (which WILL happen), there won’t be anything left unknown and you can quickly and safely deal with the situation.

Chuck Yeager was an expert at navigating through stressful situations with ease. He made it a habit to know where every control and switch were, even when blindfolded! This knowledge would help him operate efficiently in any situation–and provide insight into potential faults that could be overcome under emergency conditions too. He did this by ‘Chair flying’ – that is by practicing sequences at home, sitting in a chair. You can do the very same.  

For more tips on how to be an effective pilot, click the link HERE.

“I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.”

chuck yeager
plane cockpit familiarization
Every cockpit is different so it’s vital to become familiar with the cockpit and the location of all controls before the flight commences.

What is chair flying?

Chair flying is a very useful tool for student pilots and experienced aviators alike. Teams such as the Blue Angels and Red Arrows use chair flying before every rehearsal and every flight. The main purpose of chair flying is to visualize sitting in a cockpit and carry out a segment or an entire flight by pretending to be in a real airplane.

Some benefits of chair flying are:

1. Saves money.

2. Good practice tool.

For more details, please click on the link below:

What is muscle memory?

You may have seen experienced pilots perform flows and checklists effortlessly whereas new students fumble about trying to find the right button. This is where muscle memory plays a role in conjunction with haptic memory. The pilot who is experienced knows the positions and feels of certain knobs since he/she has done that action thousands of times, hence, the muscle has developed a “memory” of what that button should feel like and where it should be located.

plane cockpit familiarization
In any emergency, the first action should be to check if the airplane is stable or not

What is haptic memory?

Haptic memory refers to the memory of touch. For example, a pilot can tell if he/she has touched the landing gear lever if he senses a small wheel at the end of the landing gear lever. Similarly, some buttons are designed to feel different due to their function. Another example would be that every button is designed to feel different on the Airbus aircraft FCU (Flight Control Unit) so that the pilot can tell the function of the button just by touching that particular button.

What are boldface procedures and why are they important?

When I undertook my military flying training, we would sit in chairs surrounded by cardboard cutouts of the military aircraft so we could practice our procedures (memorized flows) and then tie them off with checklists. This meant that even if we lost our ability to see, such as a total electronics failure at night, or a thick smoke and fumes event, we would be able to work through our boldface and emergency procedures to safely Aviate our way through an emergency (boldface is a type of memorized procedure which you must know off by heart to deal with emergencies, and is part of the Aviate in Aviate, Navigate, Communicate).

For more details on boldface procedures and their importance, please click the link HERE.

Why cockpit familiarization is important

When you think about it, familiarizing yourself with the cockpit and memorizing the layout is a very important basic first step of any flight. Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance, and this is especially true for emergency situations. Having the ability to quickly complete tasks is crucial for efficient aviating, and is critical in emergency situations where you don’t have time to consciously ask yourself ‘Ok where is this switch or where is that button’ – you must instinctively know where to move your hand to access flight instruments and be able to multi-task and continue to safely fly the plane without it becoming a distraction.

Over time, as we fly the same aircraft we become familiar and this does become instinctive, but chair flying and visualization using a cockpit photo and cardboard cutouts can accelerate this procedure and make you a better pilot, quicker.

plane cockpit familiarization
Having the ability to quickly complete tasks is crucial for efficient aviating, and is critical in emergency situations

For more information, follow the link below:


The process of becoming a better pilot is an amalgamation of many small elements such as knowledge, skills, attitude, judgment, etc. These elements can be further broken down into smaller components such as situational awareness, cockpit familiarization, etc.

Whether you’re flying small aircraft or larger commercial airliners, the faster a pilot familiarizes themselves with the cockpit layout and flight management system, the more comfortable and confident they will be when emergency situations arise out of the blue. 

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ken johnson


Ken is a passionate aviator, a professional pilot and flight instructor. He has over 17 years of flight experience across hundreds of aircraft ranging from recreational, aerobatic, historic, commercial and military aircraft, training hundreds of students along the way. Find out more.

Ken has 124 posts and counting. See all posts by Ken

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