The history of Cockpit



Do you know how the cockpit got its name?? 

The term is used to describe the place from where the pilot controls the aircraft. It is used interchangeably with the word flight deck. It contains all the controls a pilot needs to fly the aircraft. One can also think of the cockpit as the nerve center of the entire aircraft.

There are a few competing theories behind the use of the word, “Cockpit”.

Let’s cruise through three of these theories

1. Let’s start with the funny one

One reference dates back to 1580 when the term cockpit meant “a pit for fighting cocks”, but as the Oxford English Dictionary points out, over time, the term evolved in other directions. 

But in 1635, a theatre in London called, 

“The Cockpit” was demolished to make rooms for the cabinet of King Charles I. 

The local people continued to call the cluster of buildings the cockpit, after the old theater, which in turn, got its name from being built on the site of an actual, Honest-to-Pete cock fighting site.

The cockpit evolved into a synonym for control center and that this was later applied to the control centers of airplanes. 

Robert Barnhart, through his book the Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology also suggested the same.

2. The Blood and Guts Hypothesis 

In 1700s, the word found a new meaning apart from the word control centre. The soldiers started using “cockpit” as a metaphor for the site of grisly combat, especially when the fighting was in an enclosed areas. 

The word “Cockpit” was then adopted by pilots in World War I, who applied it to the cramped operating quarters of their fighter planes. 

“It is, after all, a small pit where plenty of fighting takes place”, an old fighter pilot exclaimed.

In the 18th Century, wounded sailors were taken below decks during combat, where the ship’s surgeon and his mates would tend to them, a bloody business that led to the surgeon’s station being called the cockpit.

3. The connection of Cockpit to Mariners

Another explanation comes from the word “Cockswain”.

This word is used to describe the person in charge of a small vessel. The title comes to us from “cock,” an Old English term for a small boat, and “swain,” which means servant. 

Over time, this title led to the steering compartment of smaller boats, where the cockswain sat, being called a cockpit.


These are a few interesting theories that I came across when I researched the word “cockpit”.

One of the earliest printed reference in aviation came from 1909. That’s five years before World War I, and only six years after Kitty Hawk. It’s in the book “Vehicles of the Air” by Victor Lougheed. 

But it’s intriguing to see how this word has evolved over time and it’s roots deep embedded in the oldest mode of transport. 

Happy Landings. 

2 thoughts on “The history of Cockpit”

  1. Great to see a correlation for defining a COCKPIT from old centuries & world war scenario. May be more versions for getting the name may be available.
    But why are you bringing India in this?

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