May 6, 2016

I fly 747s for a living. Here are the amazing things I see every day


3) The weight of a plane is the main variable in how it feels to fly

I'm occasionally asked if one 747 feels the same as another. It does. But the feel of a plane changes with its weight. And the weight of a jet varies greatly, both between flights and during a flight. A 747 flying from the East Coast to London — with not many customers on board, say, and not too many boxes of lobsters or advanced medical equipment (if we're departing from Boston!) in the cargo holds, and with the fuel tanks only a third full for this relatively short flight — seems to practically jump off the runway, and it's light to the touch once we're in the sky. On the other hand, a fully loaded jet leaving Singapore for a long flight to London, with enough fuel to fight the winter headwinds the whole way, takes much more power and runway to get airborne, and it has a pleasant, quite stately feel in our hands.

4) There are rivers in the sky

It's easy to forget, when you're in your backyard under clear skies on a windless day, that the world above you is almost certainly in motion. Indeed, in an airliner at high altitude, it's a very rare moment when the weathervane-like digital pointer on our main navigation screen indicates no wind at all. Through this already-moving landscape of air cut the jet streams — vast, racing rivers, howling, if only we could hear them, at 100 or 200 miles per hour or more. These jet streams strengthen or weaken; they migrate and twist over the planet. I'm a fan of the maritime world and of its charming echoes in the aeronautical realm (think of terms like deck, air-liner, purser, port and starboard…) And so I find it endlessly pleasing that as the winds and currents shaped the journeys of ships in the old days, similarly today, over the Atlantic, pilots routinely sail hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid a headwind, or to catch a tailwind that will speed us across the sea.
In my book I speculate a little on how culture and mythology might have accounted for the jet streams, if only we could see them. Although they're among the most physically dramatic phenomena on earth, they were all but unknown to us until the age of aviation. How might we have worshipped them, or beaten drums to summon or scatter them, if they were a prominent feature of the daylight sky? Or if these air-rivers' remarkably clean-cut edges or shimmering, racing depths were somehow visible at night? At the very least, I suggest, we would have named them. Maybe someday we will.
[RDWT AT . - Mark Vanhoenacker @ Vox]

Posted by gerardvanderleun at May 6, 2016 12:31 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

So much remains to be discovered (or revealed-you choose)

Posted by: REM at May 6, 2016 2:39 PM

He scratched the surface. You have to do it to really understand it. (Aviated all over the western hemisphere in the '50s-'60s.)

Posted by: BillH at May 7, 2016 6:51 AM

It's a wonderful thing to wake up from a long and deep sleep and be reminded, as this short article does, of the wonderful phenomena that exist on this tiny planet.

Articles like this help me stop for a moment and realize that despite the problems of this world, there exists wonderful things above and below that have more vitality and meaning.

Posted by: Jack at May 7, 2016 7:31 AM

Sure looks like an Airbus wingtip though, in the headline photo.

Boeing uses a much larger, upward curving "shark-fin" type winglet, while Airbus uses that dual-vaned vortex dissapator type of device, as pictured.

If you're still in touch with Capt. Dave of the much-missed FL-390 blog, might he clear that up for the record?

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

/analretentive jerk

Posted by: Jim at May 7, 2016 12:18 PM

Psalm 139, a part:

5 You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

10 Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at May 8, 2016 8:01 PM