We’ve all seen pictures of airline pilots in the cockpit holding either a large yoke or side-stick controller that enables them to fly their aircraft safely and with great accuracy. However, when on the ground, how does the pilot steer the nose wheel to accurately guide the aircraft while navigating the maze of taxiways leading to and from the runway? Although pilots of smaller aircraft use rudder pedals for steering the nose wheel, airliners have a ground steering system that is quite a bit more unique.
Located on the console directly to the left of the captain’s seat is a small wheel or triangular-shaped device called the “tiller” used exclusively for steering when the airplane on the ground. Normally, pilots follow yellow centerline stripes painted on ramps and taxiways, but very large airliners require special techniques to maintain correct position on these stripes while turning, since their nose wheels can be located well behind and far below the cockpit. On takeoff, ground steering is used until the airliner’s aerodynamic controls become effective at speeds of about 60-to-80 mph, while the reverse procedure is used during landing.