Comfortable seating for bizav crews

 - February 5, 2007, 8:14 AM

You may be thinking outside the cockpit, but the other end of you is still firmly stuck in the cockpit, and the flight is a lot more pleasant if that end is in a comfortable place.

That’s the gospel according to IPECO, one of only a handful of pilot-seat manufacturers. According to Rick Martin, sales manager of the company’s U.S. division, the company got its start in 1978 in response to complaints of Learjet pilots who claimed that their cockpit seats were not so far removed from the wicker chairs of the early open-cockpit biplanes.

Today, IPECO pilot seats are standard in dozens of business jets, from Learjets and Gulfstreams to Boeing Business Jets. According to Martin, based on the number of seats sold annually, IPECO is the world’s largest manufacturer of pilot seats.

Martin said the company’s most recent seat is the result of an extensive study by the Farnborough Institute of Medicine in the UK. “We took the recommendations from that report, built a frame around the ergonomic requirements and engineered in comfort features,” Martin explained. The result was a contoured seat pan, a cushion shaped to fit the pan and additional cushion material to reflect the “aft end” of the typical pilot. The company also added thigh support as well as in-and-out and up-and-down lumbar support. Arm rests adjust up and down. The inside arm rests pivot back to allow easy access to the seat in the restricted confines of smaller airplanes. Finally, the seats move forward and backward and, no less important, up and down to give the pilot better visibility.

“In this seat, we wanted low maintenance and high reliability,” said Martin. “And, of course, it had to meet the 16-g requirements.”

Most of IPECO’s seats have manual controls to keep cost and weight to a minimum. The exceptions are the seats made for Dassault’s Falcons. “In most of them, the up-and-down movement is electrically controlled,” said Martin.

Asked why most pilot seats have sheepskin upholstery, Martin laughed. “Because it looks cool.” But, more seriously, he added, “It’s the most functional covering we’ve found. Because the woolly sheepskin has natural pockets of air, it retains heat in the winter, and it wicks away moisture when the cockpit is hot and pilots sweat.” Martin added that about 95 percent of pilot seats are now covered in sheepskin.

Not all seats are delivered “butt-ready.” Some are delivered green, along with the engineering specs necessary for a more customized upholstery job by a completion or refurbishment center.

Are there plans for a more comfortable pilot seat? Martin was reluctant to discuss them in detail, but admitted that “some additional comfort features are being considered.” But he cautioned, they are subject to the ever-present weight and cost factors.

With growing numbers of business jets capable of nonstop flights well in excess of 12 hours, Martin allowed as how a more comfortable seat would probably be welcomed by pilots. It won’t be a La-Z-Boy, but welcome, nonetheless.