The
Joystick

The "Joystick" or "Control Column",  which is better for flying?

I am a pilot of the female persuasion. I like boys. I like men. This is probably why I chose a career that is male dominated. Perhaps I suffer from a little envy for the things that men can do that women, by virtue of biology, remain on the fringes of, but will deny this vehemently in polite company.

The very first time I sat in the pilot seat I was presented with a control column. A CONTROL COLUMN! Can you imagine my disappointment? I had been dreaming, yearning, fantasizing about becoming a pilot for years, flitting among the clouds, controlling my steed, 300 horses under the command of my joy-stick, erect and smooth, firmly grasped in my left hand, grinning from ear to ear. What sat in front of me did not conform, in any way, to the picture I had in my minds eye.

In all fairness, there also wasn't an open cockpit, no leather hat nor goggles nor white scarf, and my instructor didn't have a six pack, unless you count beer. My steed, at approximately 700kg and 110 horses at first appeared underwhelming. That is, until we got going. I was about to discover that there is a lot more to flying than initially meets the eye.

110 horses is a fair amount to command when you don't know what you are doing, but then as Pablo Picasso said: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” And fortunately, due to the extreme patience and ability of my personal crew of male flight instructors, I succeeded. Rather well, I think.

My first experience with an actual aircraft joy stick, years later, was in a Jabiru. I can tell you it wasn't quite what I had imagined. This was one of the earlier models, and it was a good thing I always wear trousers when flying. I was doing an instructor conversion, sitting in the right hand seat. The joy stick, in-between the two side by side pilot seats, reminded me of a gaming joy stick. Short, designed to be shared, yet only place for one pilot at a time. The throttle was between my legs under the seat. And don't even attempt to apply flaps from the right seat! Being positioned above and left abeam the

left seat pilot’s head, it is impossible to operate from the right hand seat.

Not my favourite flight position. To an outside observer I must have looked like an orangutan with my right hand between my legs, leaning slightly left with the joystick lightly grasped in my left hand; my legs at maximum extension to reach the rudder pedals from the fixed seat position. It didn't quite present the elegance I had been picturing for so long.

I am delighted to report that I did, eventually, get to fly an aircraft with a Joystick, firmly planted between my thighs. And although I have flown several aircraft with 300 horses at my fingertips, my first romance with the joystick was in a light aircraft with much less power. It was in a Technam.

None the less, it was good to clasp the erect joystick in my hand, playing with it, tugging it back to shoot up together, gentling it forward for straight and level, caressing it left, jerking it right, playing in the sky. It certainly is well named, the Joystick. I find it a little alarming that most pilots who enjoy these Joystick rides are men. Perhaps there is comfort in familiarity?

In the end though, I have found I am not that particular, give it to me short and in the middle, give it to me long between my thighs, or right upfront like the control column, I really don't care. It's not the shape and size that matters after all, but the delight that it provides that really counts in the end.

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