After multiple inquiries ended with no answers, officials turned their attention to the design of the cockpit itself. Back in 1926, when the army was designing its first-ever cockpit, engineers had measured the physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots (the possibility of female pilots was never a serious consideration), and used this data to standardize the dimensions of the cockpit. For the next three decades, the size and shape of the seat, the distance to the pedals and stick, the height of the windshield, even the shape of the flight helmets were all built to conform to the average dimensions of a 1926 pilot.
How many pilots really were average?
Using the size data he had gathered from 4,063 pilots, Daniels calculated the average of the 10 physical dimensions believed to be most relevant for design, including height, chest circumference and sleeve length. These formed the dimensions of the “average pilot,” which Daniels generously defined as someone whose measurements were within the middle 30 per cent of the range of values for each dimension.
Before he crunched his numbers, the consensus among his fellow air force researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within the average range on most dimensions. … The scientists also expected that a sizable number of pilots would be within the average range on all 10 dimensions. But even Daniels was stunned when he tabulated the actual number.
Zero. Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions.
Daniels’ analysis led him to a counterintuitive conclusion that serves as the cornerstone of this book: any system designed around the average person is doomed to fail.
By discarding the average as their reference standard, the air force initiated a quantum leap in its design philosophy, centred on a new guiding principle: individual fit. Rather than fitting the individual to the system, the military began fitting the system to the individual. In short order, the air force demanded that all cockpits needed to fit pilots whose measurements fell within the 5-per-cent to 95-per-cent range on each dimension.