Cockpit design and Sports Therapy

Air Force pilot getting into plane

In the 1940’s the American Air Force had a problem. Their planes were crashing at an alarming rate – their pilots seemingly unable to control the aircraft, even in non-combat situations. After much debate they realised that the design of the cockpit was to blame. The cockpits had been designed in 1926 based on the average physical dimensions of the pilots of the time. Logic went that if the average pilot had changed over time, the cockpit also needed updating.  This resulted in a large-scale assessment of 4,000 pilots in 1950, measuring a host of physical attributes from height and weight all the way to eye-to-ear distance and thumb length. The engineers that instigated this assessment intended to use these dimensions to redesign a new cockpit around the average pilot – design a cockpit for the average pilot, and it will provide the perfect fit for the average pilot, right?

One problem – the average pilot doesn’t exist.

tape-measure-1186496_1280.jpgLt. Gilbert S. Daniels – a physical anthropologist out of Harvard – was hired to work on the pilot measuring program. He was the first to ask the crucial question “how many of these pilots are actually average?”  He then set about analysing the results of the experiment. First he selected the 10 most relevant pilot dimensions (height, chest/neck circumference etc). He then looked through the data to find out how many people fit the “average” range for each of these measurements – with reasonable wiggle-room of 30% of the mid-range.

The previous assumptions were that the majority of pilots would be within this range on most, if not all, of the measurements. The conclusion was quite stunning. Out of 4,063 pilots measured, the number that fell within the average for all 10 dimensions was……


Even when just picking three of the dimensions, just 3.5% of pilots were reported to be “average”. The outcome of this groundbreaking discovery was that there really is no such thing as the average pilot.

 “If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no-one” – L. Todd Rose – The End of Average

From this point forwards, cockpits were designed to be fully adjustable. Rather than design the cockpit to fit the average pilot, design a cockpit that can be altered to fit the individual.

So why is a Sports Therapist talking about 1950’s cockpit design?! The principle is the same – every person and every body is different. Everyone I see for a sports injury is a unique person. They come with their own body, their own story and history, their own previous injuries, their own training routines and lifestyle and their own goals. It is too easy for sports therapists and physios to fall into the trap of applying a one-size-fits-all ‘system’.

Even though the injury may be the same in two people, the cause could be completely different. The rehab plan for an office worker who runs 2-3 times a week for fun and who has never been to the gym would be completely different to that for an elite powerlifter. Smaller things matter just as much – the way the therapist talks to the client, how technical their language is, whether they concentrate on motivation or reassurance or education, and so on.

People in rehab session with kettlebells
I work with YOU to achieve YOUR recovery and YOUR goals

For maximum results, everything needs to be tailored to the individual person, rather than trying to shoehorn them into your system. This is something I bring to every single sports therapy session and for every sports injury that I see. I work with you to discover the root cause of your injury, the treatment that you will respond best to and the rehab program that will be most effective for you – and ultimately how you will achieve your goals for recovery.

For more information on how I can help you through your sports injury, get in touch via my contact form or send me a message on Facebook.

If you would like to read more about the original story of how Gilbert Daniels solved the problem for the US Air Force, you can read a more in depth article here: or for even more information try L. Todd Rose’s book The End Of Average.

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