The CIC Part III: Maneuvering Stations


Directly in front of the Command Island is a group of stations devoted to controlling the movements of the ship through space.  These are known formally as the Maneuvering Stations and the men who occupy those stations are referred to colloquially as the “Bus Drivers.”  These stations and the men who occupy them are known as Yaw, Pitch, Drives, and the Maneuvering Chief or, simply, “Maneuvering.”

The Yaw, Pitch, and Drives stations are typically occupied by comparatively junior Enlisted men, most often rated Ordinary.  The Maneuvering Chief, on the other hand, is one of the senior Non Commissioned Officers on board, usually a Chief Petty Officer First Class.

Of the three crewmen at these stations, Yaw is deemed to be the senior.  If there is no Maneuvering Chief on duty, he is in command of the Maneuvering section.

Yaw, Pitch, and Drives are arranged in a row of three adjoining consoles, in that order from right to left, in the forward area of CIC.  The Yaw and Pitch stations are physically identical to one another and, in an emergency, either station can perform the functions of both (an arrangement which makes the ship difficult to maneuver).  The primary control at both of these stations is a yoke akin to the plainsman’s control in an old style submarine or large aircraft.  The stations also contain displays for ship’s heading, speed, and navigational displays allowing the crewman to maintain complete situational awareness.  There are also short range video scanners that are primarily used when the ship is docking with another ship or a space station.  The yoke is configurable for differing response/sensitivity ranges, such that a one centimeter movement can result in a 10, 1, 0.1, or 0.01 degree change in the ship’s attitude.  Each station is further equipped with the standard set of configurable touch screens present on all warship consoles.  These touchscreens can be used to enter ship’s maneuvers directly into the computer such that a series of maneuvers can be programmed in advance, tiny course corrections as small as 0.0001 degrees can be executed, or–if the ship is damaged–the functions of the yoke can be handled through touchscreen inputs.

The Yaw and Pitch Stations

The Yaw station controls the ship’s attitude along two axes:  yaw, which changes the direction in which the ship is pointed from left to right along  an axis parallel to the orientation of its decks, and roll, which rotates the ship along its long axis much like a rolling pin.  The Pitch station controls the ship’s attitude along one axis, the direction in which the ship is pointed “up and down” along an axis perpendicular to that of the ship’s decks, much like an airplane climbing or diving.  The Pitch station also monitors and controls the ship’s trim, which is a tendency of the ship’s attitude to change in pitch, yaw, or roll even though the controls are set in a neutral position.  It is the job of the Pitch crewman to detect that tendency and to correct it by minute realignment of the main sublight drive or the maneuvering thrusters, depending upon which system is putting the ship out of correct trim.

The Drives Station

The Drives station controls the ship’s propulsion through space.  Drives selects which of ship’s propulsion systems is active at any given time and selects the “throttle” setting for that system or systems.  Drives has four systems available to him:  Compression Drive, which propels the ship at superluminal velocities; Main Sublight Drive, which propels the ship at subluminal velocities; Maneuvering Thrusters, which propel the ship at low subluminal velocities, primarily when the ship is moving through a confined area such as a stationary fleet formation or anchorage, or when docking; and Cold Gas thrusters, a seldom-used system employed in the stead of maneuvering thrusters when stealth is essential.  Each propulsion system has a bank of hard-wired controls that actuate it, and a set of hard wired indicator lights to show its status:  red for unavailable, amber for conditionally available, green for unconditionally available, and blue for engaged.  The station also contains two “throttles,” controls shaped like the throttle control on an aircraft, either of which can be tied into any one of the four drive systems.  The Drives station is also equipped with indicators for the ship’s heading and velocity as well as the standard set of touch screen displays which can be used to duplicate the function of any other control at the station, or either or both of the other maneuvering stations.

The Maneuvering Chief’s Station

Directly behind these three stations is the station for the Maneuvering Chief, who commands the Maneuvering stations.  His station consists of a multifunction console with displays for heading and velocity, the status of all maneuvering systems, as well as configurable touch screens that allow him to control all maneuvering functions directly, either in real time or by inputting a series of maneuvers to be executed in the future.  The Maneuvering Chief, however, is rarely seated at his console; rather, he typically stands behind Yaw, Pitch, and Drives translating the CO’s general orders regarding ship movement (“put us 500 kilometers off the enemy’s beam”) into specific steering and drive orders.

Why Does it take Four Men to Steer the Ship?

Warships are steered in a manner completely different from merchant and private vessels, which are usually steered by a single person using a joystick and touchscreen or even by means of a voice interface.  Obviously, a voice interface is unsuitable for a combat vessel, given the confusion of voices and sounds that are present in CIC during battle.  Experience has shown that a single “helm station” does not provide the flexibility, precision, and–most important–redundancy necessary for a warship in combat.

Three stations are necessary because of the nature of combat maneuvers and the difficulty of providing a single interface for a single crewman.  Many people have suggested that a warship could be controlled through an interface derived from the way an aircraft is steered–a yoke and pedals.  This arrangement is unsuitable for use in a warship, mainly because using pedals to control yaw would not provide the required precision.  It should be remembered that, in an aircraft. one yaws the aircraft by turning the yoke which rolls the aircraft into a bank which, in turn, causes the aircraft to turn in the direction of the bank, and–secondarily–yawing the directly aircraft by means of the rudder which is operated by the pedals.  As any pilot knows, most of the precision control of the turn is accomplished with the yoke, not the pedals, which are mainly used to assist in the turn which is primarily achieved by banking the aircraft.

Spacecraft do not bank.  Changing the ship’s attitude in one axis does not cause the ship to change direction in another.  Each mode of control needs to be exercised with equal precision–often very high precision.  If an aircraft style control interface were used on a warship, yaw would be controlled directly and solely with pedals.  Even with fly-by-wire computer assistance to even out and interpret the control inputs, only exceptional human beings are capable of moving their feet with the speed and precision necessary to effectuate warship maneuvers in this manner.  Other means of steering the ship in a third dimension–such as by twisting a control on the yoke–suffer from similar deficiencies of precision.  That is why there are two men who control attitude, both with yokes that are operated with their hands–one man controlling yaw and roll and the other controlling pitch.

Drives also requires a separate crewman.  Unlike an aircraft which, although it may have several engines has only a single mode of propulsion, a warship has three and sometimes four propulsion modes.  Switching between propulsion modes and controlling their operation is a demanding job and is too much for one man to handle if he is also required to steer the ship.

Some have also suggested that the Maneuvering Chief is superfluous–that the CO should be able to give maneuvering orders directly to Yaw, Pitch, and Drives.  Such a suggestion, if implemented, would result in disaster.  The Commanding Officer of a warship in combat is an exceptionally busy man.  He needs to be able to give general orders about the maneuvering and positioning of the ship–“put us 500 meters off the Hotel 1’s port beam” or “change course and speed to intercept Hotel 3 before he reaches the jump point” without having to determine that doing what he wants requires that Yaw come 57 degrees to port and that Pitch needs to pitch down 32 degrees and so on.  Accordingly, the skipper needs an experienced hand to translate his tactical maneuvers into precise steering and propulsion instructions.  The Maneuvering Chief also relieves the CO of the need to monitor each movement and each translation of the ship on a detailed, minute by minute level, so he can concentrate on winning the battle.

It has also been suggested by some that the high speed of a superluminal warship makes manual control interfaces absurd–that the half second or second necessary to implement a manual course change allows the ship to travel hundreds of thousands of kilometers before the ship would actually change course.  These suggestions could come only from supremely ignorant or profoundly stupid individuals.  The relevant issue here is not the absolute distance the ship travels during this time, but the distance the ship travels relative to any obstacle it might have to avoid.  Given that immensity and emptiness of outer space, as well as the extreme distances at which warships are capable of detecting astronomical bodies or other vessels (often billions of kilometers), it is of no matter that the ship may travel hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of kilometers between the issuance of an order to change course and the actual course change.

5 comments on “The CIC Part III: Maneuvering Stations

  1. The design and description is very interesting. As for the multiple helm officers guiding a 92 meter destroyer that is of great mass is prudent. I watch seaQuest DSV, and the titular sub is guided by three crew members piloting the helm, not a easy task.

    Your ship design has inspired me and I wonder if I could use your website as a reference for science fiction writing that I do as a role play hobby as well as any tips for having a hard sci fi role play to a degree.

    • Thanks. The design made sense to me as I wrestled over the years with how a ship that size would be maneuvered in space combat. I remember watching Star Trek as a kid and thinking that there was no way Sulu steered the ship through battle maneuvers by pushing those little plastic buttons. Feel free to use the site as a reference, so long as you respect the copyright and don’t appropriate my work as your own.

      • I don’t intend to, plagiarism is unfair to all involved, but the concepts of triple redundancy is something that NASA is smart about. Space is a hostile environment, and to a degree so is the deepest areas of our world’s own oceans.

        seaQuest in one episode had to be delicately guided to depth to place a platform over a black smoker, and the helms crew no matter who they were: Senior officers or enlisted didn’t have easy time with the ship and the environment resisting their efforts.

    • Good question. If you are referring to a pure translation in X or Z as opposed to steering in those directions while the ship is moving forward in X (and I bet you are, otherwise I don’t think you would have said “translate,”), the answer is yes. BUT, as the ship can’t use its main drive to do so–the nozzles won’t gimbal over that far and, even if they could, the thrust wouldn’t be from the ship’s center of mass and would cause it to pitch or yaw severely–it can do so only with maneuvering thrusters. This is how the ship would pull away from another vessel to which it was docked. I’ve never derived the precise ratings for the maneuvering thrusters, so I don’t know exactly how much delta-V they can impart, but it is very small as compared to the main sublight drive. They are substantially more powerful, though, than is strictly needed just to push a ship away from a docking configuration or to back it out of a hangar. They are strong enough lift the ship off the ground if it has to make an emergency landing on a planet with up to 2 g’s of gravitation and are used in making sharp maneuvers, such as the “flapjack,” used several times in the books.

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