PNG images: Joystick

A joystick is an input device consisting of a stick that pivots on a base and reports its angle or direction to the device it is controlling. A joystick, also known as the control column, is the principal control device in the cockpit of many civilian and military aircraft, either as a center stick or side-stick. It often has supplementary switches to control various aspects of the aircraft's flight.

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Joysticks are often used to control video games, and usually have one or more push-buttons whose state can also be read by the computer. A popular variation of the joystick used on modern video game consoles is the analog stick. Joysticks are also used for controlling machines such as cranes, trucks, underwater unmanned vehicles, wheelchairs, surveillance cameras, and zero turning radius lawn mowers. Miniature finger-operated joysticks have been adopted as input devices for smaller electronic equipment such as mobile phones.

Joysticks originated as controls for aircraft ailerons and elevators, and is first known to have been used as such on Louis Bleriot's Bleriot VIII aircraft of 1908, in combination with a foot-operated rudder bar for the yaw control surface on the tail.

The name "joystick" is thought to originate with early 20th century French pilot Robert Esnault-Pelterie. There are also competing claims on behalf of fellow pilots Robert Loraine, James Henry Joyce, and A. E. George. Loraine is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary for using the term "joystick" in his diary in 1909 when he went to Pau to learn to fly at Bleriot's school. George was a pioneer aviator who with his colleague Jobling built and flew a biplane at Newcastle in England in 1910. He is alleged to have invented the "George Stick" which became more popularly known as the joystick. The George and Jobling aircraft control column is in the collection of the Discovery Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Joysticks were present in early planes, though their mechanical origins are uncertain. The coining of the term "joystick" may actually be credited to Loraine, as his is the earliest known usage of the term, although he most certainly did not invent the device.

The electrical two-axis joystick was invented by C. B. Mirick at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and patented in 1926 (U.S. Patent no. 1,597,416)". NRL was actively developing remote controlled aircraft at the time and the joystick was possibly used to support this effort. In the awarded patent, Mirick writes: "My control system is particularly applicable in maneuvering aircraft without a pilot."

The Germans developed an electrical two-axis joystick around 1944. The device was used as part of the Germans' Funkgerät FuG 203 Kehl radio control transmitter system used in certain German bomber aircraft, used to guide both the rocket-boosted anti-ship missile Henschel Hs 293, and the unpowered pioneering precision-guided munition Fritz-X, against maritime and other targets. Here, the joystick of the Kehl transmitter was used by an operator to steer the missile towards its target. This joystick had on-off switches rather than analogue sensors. Both the Hs 293 and Fritz-X used FuG 230 Straßburg radio receivers in them to send the Kehl's control signals to the ordnance's control surfaces. A comparable joystick unit was used for the contemporary American Azon steerable munition, strictly to laterally steer the munition in the yaw axis only.

This German invention was picked up by someone in the team of scientists assembled at the Heeresversuchsanstalt in Peenemünde. Here a part of the team on the German rocket program was developing the Wasserfall missile, a variant of the V-2 rocket, the first ground-to-air missile. The Wasserfall steering equipment converted the electrical signal to radio signals and transmitted these to the missile.

In the 1960s the use of joysticks became widespread in radio-controlled model aircraft systems such as the Kwik Fly produced by Phill Kraft (1964). The now-defunct Kraft Systems firm eventually became an important OEM supplier of joysticks to the computer industry and other users. The first use of joysticks outside the radio-controlled aircraft industry may have been in the control of powered wheelchairs, such as the Permobil (1963). During this time period NASA used joysticks as control devices as part of the Apollo missions. For example, the lunar lander test models were controlled with a joystick.

In many modern airliners aircraft, for example all Airbus aircraft developed from the 1980s, the joystick has received a new lease on life for flight control in the form of a "side-stick", a controller similar to a gaming joystick but which is used to control the flight, replacing the traditional yoke. The sidestick saves weight, improves movement and visibility in the cockpit, and may be safer in an accident than the traditional "control yoke".

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