I know you all love to travel but I also know that many of you are afraid of flying so I will try to bring you my knowledge as an airline pilot so that you understand better the phenomena that scare you to be able to face your fears on your next travels.
The main questions that come up are:
- How do you do when there are “air holes”?
- Do planes often break down and can we fly with failures?
- What is the most dangerous take-off or landing?
- Is the landing automatic?
I will try to give you the clearest possible answers.
How do you do when there are “air holes”
First of all there are no “air holes” that does not exist and it will never exist. The atmosphere in which we evolve is relatively homogeneous, the pressure decreases steadily as the altitude increases but the composition and homogeneity remains the same.
So what creates this unpleasant sensation of falling from time to moment?
The answer is: turbulence.
The atmosphere may be homogeneous it is still in motion as the water of the sea or a river it moves vertically but also horizontally and that is what creates the turbulence.
There are three types of turbulence:
Those due to convection (formation of clouds), those due to the Jets (high winds of altitude) and those due to the orographic waves (wind that comes to hit a mountain).
- Convective turbulence: The surface of the earth heats up under the action of the sun but in a different way sen depending on the nature of the soils a parking lot will heat more than a forest or a lake. Warmer air bubbles tend to rise and form clouds the higher the air is unstable and the higher the vertical air movements will be and create turbulent clouds. The worst of all is the cumulonimbus which can climb up to more than 10km of altitude.
- The turbulence due to the Jets: The Jets are wind veins that one meets at high altitude they can reach over 150km/h they can make up to 500km wide on more than 5000Km long but are only thick by 1000 m it is the friction between a mass Stable air and these strong winds that create the turbulence that is found underneath and on the sides of the Jets.
- Turbulence related to the orographic waves: When important winds type reliefs like Mistral in the Alps of the ascending and descending currents in the form of “waves” are created behind the terrain and under these waves there are swirls Important (like the swirls created behind a rock in a torrent.
Airliners move in air masses to over 800km/h when they encounter updrafts and descendants the aircraft undergoes such currents as a car that would take potholes too quickly. Which creates this unpleasant sensation. Regarding convective turbulence our weather radars are efficient and allow us to avoid very convective storm cells that are well visible on the radar. The turbulences associated with the Jets and orographic waves are marked on the maps and we often take roads to avoid them. However when we encounter turbulence that we can not avoid we reduce the speed to feel it less. Even if the sensation is very unpleasant there is no danger to traverse even strong turbulences, the resistancs of the planes are calculated to endure enormous constraints far more important than those that we usually encounter and if we adopt the right speed there are no special risks. The danger comes more from the inside when the passengers do not respect the safety instructions and do not fasten their belts, if the vertical movement is important you can find yourself on the ceiling so always fasten your belt and that of your Children when you are not moving.
Do planes often break down and can we fly with failures?
Airplanes have complex systems and fly a lot so it is normal that failures occur however all systems are redundant with separate circuits so that the failure of a circuit does not affect the other circuit. On the ground we have a list of equipment that can be broken and with which we still have the right to take off and the precautions we have to make if necessary. If the equipment is not on the list the aircraft is NoGo and cannot leave without repair by authorized mechanics. In flight failures can occur as I said before the systems are redundant then all failures are listed in a manual that we call the QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) which contains all the checklists related to these failures. When a breakdown arrives in flight we analyze the problem and we perform the checklist that will solve this problem then we evaluate the risks (technical, weather, commercial) to make the best decision to guarantee the safety of the flight, passengers and of the aircraft. All these procedures are codified, updated and we train every 6 months to the simulator to verify that we master them perfectly.
What is the most dangerous take-off or landing?
In general the most critical phases are those that take place near the ground, but everything has been put in place as the technical progress is made to reduce the risks and get the maximum margins. The takeoff performance For example is all calculated with the failure of an engine before leaving the runway and guarantee a rate of climb that allows to pass all the obstacles with an altitude margin the loads carried away (passengers, baggage, freight… are sometimes limited in order to be able to comply with these performances. We are also trained to handle any failures that may occur on takeoff.
The landing is also a critical phase of the flight and there also margins are put in place to limit the risks of the weather minima of visibility and clouds are determined for each terrain, downwind and traverse limits are published for the Dry and wet runway landings and stabilization criteria (speed, altitude, vertical velocity…) must be observed during the approaches. In case of problem a gas delivery must be carried out this is a normal procedure to which we are trained and which allows to guarantee perfectly mastered landings. On each ground instruments on the ground or GPS trajectories allow us to steer very low on the axis of track.
Is the landing done by the autopilot?
In order to be able to perform an automatic landing three criteria must be met, the aircraft must have the capacity to do so, the crew must have qualified training and the terrain must be equipped with high-performance radio assistance and Sufficient lighting. Automatic landings can only be done if the wind is in certain limits so they are often carried out in times of fog when the visibility is very bad but the air relatively stable. Today’s planes have the ability to land with zero visibility by keeping track axis and braking automatically. On the network on which I operate although the aircraft have the ability to make automatic landings the land is not approved and we do not have the qualification to do so we systematically ask in manual.
I hope that these details will allow you to have a great trip the next time you fly and apprehend less of your next flight. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments below and if you found the article interesting feel free to share it on social networks.