Single-Pilot Ops Originated in Europe

The two-pilot crew began as an American initiative during World War II.

CWH Lancaster Bomber on final approach. [Courtesy: Adobe Stock]

Two-pilot operations in American multiengine aircraft date back to World War II. America's bombers—the B-17, B-24, and B-25—all relied on having two pilots in the cockpit.

In Europe, however, it was a different story. In Germany and England, for example, there was a shortage of pilots because of a decline in the birth rate after World War I—so much so that some heavy military aircraft were designed around single-pilot operations. The British Avro Lancaster B. Mk I, a four-engine heavy bomber, is one of those.

The Lancaster, designed in 1942, carried a seven-member crew—but only one pilot. The cockpit is significantly smaller than that of the B-17, and intentionally so, allowing the pilot to be able to reach everything. There is only one fixed seat in the cockpit—a second seat, in a fold-down, jumpseat style, could be occupied by the flight engineer.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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