In the Cockpit, On the TarMac ?

Where the hell is the Tarmac anyway?

I’ve been flying since 1952 (really). Even though I know what the stuff is I don’t know why it is refered to as a “place”. My understanding is that a guy ( in England I think) named Mc Adam developed the Mc Adam substitute for concrete for airfield use during WW II and made a million zillion dollars. Or pounds.

Tar/Mac would be an even cheaper substitute for the authentic substitute. The stuff won’t bear much weight but would have been allright for the wheel weight of most airplanes at the time. This explains the “what” of it; but WHY do the media and public use as it a nonspecific place other than at the gate or in the air?  Really, why?

Is it the Flight Deck or the Cockpit?

The use of the term Flight Deck started about twenty five years ago at one of the more snootypants airlines and seems to have spread throughout the industry.  Somebody in management probably thought that saying “cockpit”  on the PA might get somebody excited.  Good excited, or bad excited. Either way could be bad. There was probably a letter from a passenger.

The best explanation I have heard for the origin of the word is nautical.  A lot of aviation stuff is nautical in origin. Cockpit  comes from a very long time ago when guys in wooden ships were busy blasting away at one another.  The wounded guys would be put below the waterline in the back of the ship in the little compartment where the manual tiller was located.  The tiller would be the only way to steer the ship if the steering gear above deck were damaged.  Since all the blewt-up guys were bleeding all over the place, and cock-fighting was an even bigger sport at the time than blowing eachother up, the little compartment where the manual controls were located came to be called the “cockpit”.  Rooster fighting, I suppose, results in substantial blood loss.

It is important to understand that nautical people are compelled, probably by boredom, to have an obscure name for everything. Anything that is said or done on a boat or ship more than once becomes a time honored tradition.

So the “steer the boat” room name of cockpit got passed on to sailing yachts in the 19th century. The next leap of calling part of an airplane the same name just about had to be British since it isn’t a French word and Americans didn’t name any airplane parts I can think of.  Except the Kollsman Window which isn’t really a window at all. It was just the best name Kollsman could come up with.


One Response to “In the Cockpit, On the TarMac ?”

  1. I’m digging on your blog and your pictures are stunning and upsetting as well – the best pictures are.
    I am freaked by two things in this world: airline travel and severe weather (ok 3 things – partially submerged tree stumps and logs – I mean, who isn’t?!) so I’m here, frequently, reading all squinty-eyed through my fingers, as you describe what happens during “severe turbulence” (thank you) and that a small dissipating rainstorm can, oh my yes, kill everyone(thanks. thank you.).
    Anyway, seriously, love your writing and hope you keep it up and maybe I’ll even fly again someday.

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