I was recently asked to identify the most difficult aspects of handling a plane. I think a more interesting question would be which of the three main manoeuvres – taxiing, takeoff or landing – is the most challenging.
The truth is that there is no definitive answer; different pilots find each of these three phases of flight challenging in different ways, and this is largely influenced by the pilot’s personal flying experience, the type of aircraft he or she is flying, as well as environmental conditions. In fact, an airline, general aviation or helicopter pilot would justifiably have different views.
From my perspective as an airline pilot, the answer is most certainly the landing aspect of the flight. Let me elaborate on the three phases – taxiing, takeoff and landing – and the unique challenges each poses.
Learn to manage travel anxiety for an enjoyable flight with these tips from Captain Lim Khoy Hing.
Image: Travel 3Sixty
Without a doubt, sound knowledge and understanding of the principles of flying go a long way in helping one relax enough to enjoy a flight; this is something I have frequently reiterated in my earlier articles. However, despite being well informed on the safety of air travel, anxiety continues to plague nervous travellers, sometimes, even hindering their travel dreams.
Psychologists have attributed aerophobia to three main triggers: the anxiety caused by the unknown, and a lack of faith in the machine and crew. Conversely, statistics clearly prove that when compared to other modes of transportation, flying is still one of the safest forms of travel.
Shining the spotlight on the second in command in the cockpit – the co-pilot.
From Air Stewardess to Pilot
The role of the co-pilot is often misunderstood by the flying public. Also known as the first officer, the co-pilot is the junior of the two pilots in the cockpit in terms of rank, and wears two or three stripes on the epaulet.
Although the pilot, also known as the captain or aircraft commander, is responsible for everything that happens onboard the plane, it is a common misconception that the junior pilot, the lesser-known co-pilot, is only an assistant or a trainee who does not take off or land the aircraft. This cannot be further from the truth. It is, in fact, normal procedure at the start of a flight for the captain and first officer to decide who, between them, is going to be the pilot flying (PF), so that the other would be the pilot non-flying (PNF), or now known as pilot-monitoring (PM).
It’s interesting how good manners can oftentimes completely disappear when patience wears thin and fuses become short in a less than ideal situation. I’ve observed this at the departure gate when, frustrated by a slight delay, passengers jostle to get on board and claim space in the overhead cabin before anyone else can take up the choice spots.
I recently received an email from a traveler regarding a less than fragrant aroma in the cabin – the result of outside food being smuggled on board. AirAsia practises a ‘no outside food’ policy, and part of the reason for this is to ensure that no one carries stinky food into the cabin. Unfortunately, neither the guest nor the cabin crew could track down the source of the offending aroma. And so, the guest (and all those around her) had to endure the strange odour as best they could.
What makes apples fall from trees? What stops you from floating off into space? Gravity – the force that pulls or attracts a body towards the centre of the Earth.
Tightrope walkers understand this better than anyone else. Precariously navigating a rope that seems as fine as a thread, with just a balancing pole as an aid, these stunt artists are able to entertain us because they understand the simple concept of the centre of gravity (CG).
On a plane, this concept is equally important. A conventional aircraft normally has a forward CG. This is designed in such a way that should anything happen to the engines, the nose of the aircraft would dip downwards, allowing the plane to glide like a paper plane.
Most planes glide well. For example, an Airbus A330 can glide without engines for about 160 kilometres from a height of 40,000 feet! This was proven when, in 2001, an Air Transat (a Canadian airline) plane ran out of fuel due to a ruptured fuel line while flying from Toronto to Lisbon in Portugal. The pilots made history by flying the plane without power and gliding to land safely on an island in the Azores region in the Atlantic Ocean.
If you like what you read, more stories are found in my book LIFE IN THE SKIES (Preview here) and you can purchase a copy here. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my Twitter at @CaptKHLim or Facebook here