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1580s, "a pit for fighting cocks," from cock (n.1) + pit (n.1). Used in nautical sense (1706) for midshipmen's compartment below decks; transferred to airplanes (1914) and to cars (1930s). (http://www.etymonline.com/)
However I came across other references to the derivation in nautical terms coming from the word coxswain.
Several years ago, I received an e-mail that showed, for the first time, an all female crew for an Air Force bomber. Because of this, it was decided that the control area would no longer be called the cockpit but would be referred to differently when there were female pilots. What was the new term? I have lost the e-mail. It pertains to Webook because I want to use the term in an upcoming story about aviation.