Shuttle Yoke


Our first scene with Ibanez in training shows her piloting a shuttle to her ship. We don’t see much of the instrument panel or any footpedals, but the interaction with the yoke is pretty clear. She sits in the pilot seat, flicks a couple of switches on an overhead panel, and then gives the yoke a hard yank back to ignite the engines and take off. The reactions from the other characters tell us that she’s meant to be something of an aggressive pilot.


The shuttle exits the flight deck and we get a glimpse of the instrument panel. It has a screen, displaying moving gradients, and a bank of unlabeled buttons. Ibanez never looks at these. She flies visually by the viewport. As she approaches the Rodger Young, we see her holding the yoke close to her, and rolling it to the right as the shuttle arcs near the giant spaceship, and then into a “hallway” within its scaffolded hull. She doesn’t move the yoke very much at all to pitch it 90 degrees up and back out to space again.



There’s not a lot of information in this short scene, but enough to talk about. It’s a simple powered interface, with Ibanez operating a yoke that’s kind-of like a plane’s yoke. She banks the yoke to bank the shuttle. She rolls the yoke to roll the shuttle. There’s a bit of confusion about what the back-and-forth (ventral) controls do. On the flight deck it ignites thrust, but in space it seems to mean pitch (more like what we’d expect.) Yokes are problematic conceptually (for reasons being discussed here) but let’s go with it as a given for now.

First, where’s the safety measures on the flight deck? There is no clearance zone behind the shuttle and that thing is spitting blue fire, right at head level. You’d expect her to check her equivalent of the rear-view mirrors and key some warning klaxxons on the flight deck. Unless that fire is somehow harmless.

While we’re at it, where are the safety measures for the shuttle while in space? She’s clearly freaking the other pilots out with reckless piloting. Sure, they’re new and she’s a “maverick” but you’d expect it to alert her visibly and audibly if she’s undertaking maneuvers that are risky to the shuttle and the giant warship. So fine, the shuttle doesn’t have some gigantic and expensive equipment needed for this. But later in the movie we see that the Rodger Young has a collision alert function. (See below.) Why isn’t she contacted by someone assigned to security aboard the Rodger Young when she first approaches the ship in a reckless way?

This is not aboard the shuttle.

This is not aboard the shuttle.

And finally, there’s the control. It’s risky to use yoke-jerk for initiating thrust if the same motion means something else in flight. If the pilot needs a sudden boost of power, having them strain leaning forward or backward risks their messing with other variables and pointless repositioning for the pilot. Sure, it might be a mode where this only works when docked, but as we all know, modes are problematic at best and to be avoided. And then there’s the fact that the yoke’s sensitivity to pitch is nearly a force gauge, but to roll requires around 45 degrees. Shouldn’t these be at least the same order of magnitude?

It’s so unreal that it breaks the scene. The eyes of the actor and the camera do some work to keep us distracted, but it’s still there, like a bug hiding under the sand of Klendathu.

4 thoughts on “Shuttle Yoke

  1. The throttle may be at her feet; the aggressive pull on the yoke may serve to disengage a locking mechanism on the launch deck. (Notice that the passengers only seem to lurch slightly when she jams the yoke.) Since the shuttle appears to be on a track at this stage, there may also be relatively little thrust: the shuttle may be catapulted by the track.

    The blue engine fires suggest they’re hot, but the flash of light when the shuttle accelerates may not be related to the engines, as there’s no banding and the flames don’t change in size to suggest an afterburner-like effect; indeed, the flash looks more like lights activating near the engines to enhance the shuttle’s visibility to control as the shuttle proceeds into the darker launch tunnel.

    This suggests to me that typical shuttle launch procedures are to wait for passengers to secure themselves, gently disengage the lock, signal clearance to control, wait for the door to open, activate the catapult (or have control activate it), wait for the door to close behind the shuttle to presumably airlock the launch tunnel, then initiate normal flight controls.

    Until launch, Ibanez could spin the yoke like a top and nothing would likely happen as the shuttle is locked to the catapult track. Her launch deck exuberance is safely limited by the tightly controlled catapult system–thus very few people on the launch deck reacting with anything more than curiosity.

    • That there is some fine apologetics, obo. Seriously. I buy all of it but two things: The yoke-jerk happens way too close to thrust to be coincidence. I think the thrust is implied. (Though here we’re getting dangerously close to second-guessing the filmmaker’s intent.) Also I can’t imagine a culture with the technology they possess would use blue flame for illumination. Maybe if Riko went into combat in plate mail, perhaps. 🙂

      • Thanks for these wonderful posts, I enjoy this blog quite a bit. I’m sorry for my comment–apologetics weren’t intended.

        To be clear, I didn’t suggest they used the blue flame for illumination; the flash looks more like lights activating near the engines, not the engine flames themselves. But I’ll defer to you. Thank you.

  2. I’ve always loved the “steering wheel” in Starship Troopers. I want one. I always felt it let the pilot pull the 2 arms out/push them in to act as the yoke. Afterall, why else would it have arms like that?

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