What does a copilot do?

#1Lurking_LobsterPosted 1/30/2010 1:42:58 PM
Sorry I'm a bit of an Air Force noob but what is the point of having a two-seat fighter with a pilot and copilot (like the F-15E for example).

I just noticed that some of the planes in this game have copilots behind the main pilot and was wondering what their job is in real life.
#2Malkovich_Posted 1/30/2010 3:07:53 PM
Two-seat fighters are actually referred to as strike aircraft. While an F-15C is strictly an air-to-air fighter, the F-15E is a strike fighter, capable of deploying precision guided bombs. And it's the back seater's job (the weapon systems officer) to deploy these weapons while the pilot flies. The pilot still flies and fights normally against enemy aircraft, firing missiles and guns himself, but the WSO can aid in operating the radar and watching for other threats during air engagements. Having a back seater takes a lot of work load off the pilot and raises the chances of a mission success because it lowers the amount of mistakes that one guy can make flying an aircraft like an F-15E.

That's not to say you need back a seater for strike aircraft though, the F-16C performs the same job as the F-15E, but it does it with one pilot. as does the F-18E. But other types of ground attack aircraft pretty much have to have two pilots because the workload is simply too much for one person, like attack choppers. Im sure you've noticed that it's not just the Apache that has a two-seat tandem cockpit. Flying a helicopter is much more difficult than flying a fixed-wing aircraft and to have the pilot fly while operating the weapons systems is too much to ask of him. There's only one single seat attack chopper in service in the whole world, the Russian Ka-50, and that's only used for smaller spec-op missions.

So basically any time you see a two-seat fighter it's because it's primary role is usually ground attack rather than air-to-air.

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Malkovich
#3XiviosPosted 1/30/2010 6:47:18 PM
That may be true now-a-days with Western aircraft, but it is hardly true for older Western craft or more recent Eastern aircraft for that matter, and saying a two-seater is automatically a strike fighter is hardly accurate. However, your correct about the WSO's in either case. For example, the F-14 Tomcat, especially the earlier models, before they developed a decent ground attack ability. Originally a pure interceptor, the Tomcat was always a two-seater, mainly, I would guess, because of the complexity of the AIM-54 Phoenix it and it alone fielded, and the unparalleled range and power of the Tomcat's radar (the second man in the Tomcat was refered to as the Radar Intercept Officer). The early Tomcats, and even the later Tomcats (though they did engage in the role eventually) were never referred to as 'Strike Fighters', but they have always been two seat planes.

For a more recent example in Eastern aircraft, look at India's Su-30MKI, these are arguably the most advanced form of Flanker in service today, and they are a primarilly air superiority fighters, with a secondary role in ground attack. They too are two-seat fighters (and would have been a nicer addition to the game than the Su-33, in my opinion.)
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It's true what they say, the grass is always greener, and you don't really know what it is you have, until it's gone. Gone. Gone...-Conker T. Squirrel.
#4Malkovich_Posted 1/30/2010 7:16:09 PM
and saying a two-seater is automatically a strike fighter is hardly accurate

I didnt mean to infer all two-seat aircraft are automatically strike aircraft, he specifically mentioned the F-15E, and the reason that is a two-seat is because it was designed as a strike aircraft, most two-seat fighters operating today are strike aircraft. With the back-seater mainly operating the ground targeting equipment. Even older aircraft like the F-14 evolved into this role before it was retired.

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Malkovich
#5Lurking_Lobster(Topic Creator)Posted 1/31/2010 12:01:38 PM
Ah I see now, thanks. That's interesting that helicopters are considered more difficult to fly than a jet. I always figured that the jet would be much harder simply from the speed you'd be flying at and the quick reaction time you'd need for dogfights and other maneuvers. Are there just a lot more controls and processes necessary to keep a helicopter in the air and flying smoothly?
#6mark1712Posted 1/31/2010 12:32:28 PM
Flying a heli is really harder than a jet. Why? Flight mechanics.
Once you get a jet plane in the air, fly-by-wire system makes it quite easy to fly; basically (I say basically) the only things you have to worry about is not to stall the plane (i.e. by too high AoA or too low speed). The keywords here are: maintaining the energy.
If you have some time, read LOMAC's manual (I know I'm posting it like tenth time ;)):
ftp://ftp.ubisoft.com/games/lomac/Lock_On_Reference_Manual.pdf

If you're talking about helicopter - it's quite tough.
For example - you're flying at lower speeds and lower altitudes. Once you stall your heli (yes, it is possible in that type of aircraft too) it's pretty much over. You can't bank too much or change azimuth too fast because you may get into unrecoverable spin. Add to that operating weaponry, electro-optic sensors and you have the outcome. Too much for one person to handle.

FAA released some time ago nice Rotorcraft Flying Handbook:
http://www.faa.gov/library/manuals/aircraft/media/faa-h-8083-21.pdf You can take at least a look at it: everything's nicely explained. I have to finally find some time to read it and start enjoying helis in the FSX :)
#7Malkovich_Posted 1/31/2010 2:59:03 PM
Are there just a lot more controls and processes necessary to keep a helicopter in the air and flying smoothly?

Yeah. It's not so much that it's harder to fly, it's that it's harder to fly and operate the weapons systems at the same time. In a normal fixed-wing jet, you can trim the control surfaces for hands off flying, allowing you to use the MFD's, FLIR, ect. You also dont have to worry about hitting anything at 2000ft+. You can simply trim and fly in a straight line and do what you need to do in the pit. In a chopper you have to your hands on the cyclic and stick at all times, you're flying at ground level, using hills and trees for cover, you're constantly changing your flight path, and the nature of flying a chopper requires you to also constantly play with the propeller pitch (cyclic control) so again, you're hands are always glued to the controls. A back-seater to operate the weapons is a necessity.

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Malkovich
#8ProgammerPosted 1/31/2010 4:38:55 PM
The copilot is there to take pictures and video as well as training.
#9XiviosPosted 1/31/2010 5:59:01 PM
Well, helicopters really are harder to fly, anyways. You want to go up in a jet? Pull back, increase throttle, and keep it within the flight envelope so it doesn't stall.

Want to go up in a helicopter? Pull back the collective. Uh oh, doing this has increased the torque on the rotor, so you need to counter with the tail rotor foot pedals. Speaking of which, that anti-torque tail rotor is also causing thrust on one side of the helicopter, now you need to counter that with cyclic. Back to the collective, newer helicopters have automatic throttles, but the older ones didn't. Pulling the collective up on a helicopter with a manual throttle means you've got to control the throttle as well.

So, just to make a helicopter climb straight up, you need to control the collective (and maybe the throttle) with your left hand, counter the torque with your feet, and counter the tail rotor thrust with you right hand on the cyclic.

Now, these helicopters, they aren't naturally stable either. Flying one is like trying to balance a pencil on your finger tip, so even when your hovering, which is actually more difficult than it looks (especially with the tail rotor always pushing you to one side), your always balancing the helicopters naturally tendency to crash. They are incredibly difficult machines to fly, fixed-wing aircraft are simple by comparison, and, like Malkovich said, they are virtually always hands-on, giving a pilot in a combat situation very little time to take his hands off of any control to actually have time to shoot something.

Still, hasn't stopped everyone from trying. The Russian KA-50 attack chopper is a single seater, though they do produce a two-seat variant as well.
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It's true what they say, the grass is always greener, and you don't really know what it is you have, until it's gone. Gone. Gone...-Conker T. Squirrel.
#10Airborne6176Posted 2/1/2010 8:01:22 PM
Let's not forget our MV-22Bs here at MCAS New River, NC and the CV-22 Blk.10 squadrons in the USAF. From my hours flying as a crew chief of a '22 with two pilots [no "copilots" in the tilt-rotor community ;)] up front and my time in the full-motion/stationary sims, I would say that flying an Osprey is a combination of both fixed and rotary winged challenges. Most of our pilots come from the helo community, but we do have a few Hornet & Prowler jocks, and we even have a couple of prior Herc' drivers. It's like they have to learn most everything over again, but they manage. Flight physics will always be a beast to wrestle with regardless of platform, and all pilots (and copilots) must learn how to integrate them safely and tactfully for their various missions.

I have the utmost respect for ANYONE (pilot, copilot, etc) who takes up an aircraft, whether it be in harm's way or not. Even MORE props to the guys/gals who keep 'em flying...

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PSN & XBL: AIRBORNE6176
"The mind is like a parachute, it only works if it's open."