I think it’s highly airframe dependent. Both the Cobra and the Apache have dual flying controls, so even though the guy in front might be the weapons guy, he can still fly the aircraft if needed. In an attack helicopter it’s far more important to have multiple people at the helm because flying and fighting is a huge workload, so it works far better to have one guy focusing on flying the aircraft while the other focuses on weapons. The Russians found this out in short order with the Ka-50 and I think that’s why they opted for the Ka-52 and Mi-28.
For a lot of fixed wing aircraft, it’s a bit more muddy. They tend to fly themselves, without much input, so once one figures out the basics it’s not that hard, and when you throw in computerized capabilities it makes it that much easier to multitask. Even the F-14 boasts a basic autopilot that can fly it in a circle for the LANTIRN or hold a course to intercept. I think that’s why Razbam has indicated that their F-15E won’t have an AI for the WSO, as the front seater and back seater can do the same things.
Having said that, using the LANTIRN mod for the F-14 as well as checking out the back seat does make me appreciate having someone in the back to run that stuff while I fly. There’s a huge element in trying to order Chester around that doesn’t really quite match having an extra brain in the back that can handle that without much input. I strongly suspect the F-14 might be a hair more popular to multicrew if it had duplicate flight controls and crews could trade back and forth so everyone gets a little bit of flight time inside a sortie. I’m not opposed to doing RIO work myself after having tried it out a bit (though I need to setup a kneeboard for startup), but I do understand why most people prefer to have the front seat and stick with Chester, no matter how inefficient he might be.
At the end of the day, with technologies like Chester, I don’t think multiseat aircraft should be off the table. The F-14, while difficult to run with one player + Chester, is a completely different challenge than a Harrier or a F/A-18. It’s a unique perspective and I hope more developers consider taking a bite at that apple.
Just don’t do what P-38 instructors did and stuff the student behind the seat. That stuff sucked.