Stranded In The Southland

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Somebody Else Is Flying

When we got home for the holidays, dad asked if I'd found it a different experience flying on a commercial jet now that I had some experience behind the controls.

Strangely enough, it wasn't that different. I suppose that I had an easier time reading all of the signs for the taxiways and runways on the airport, and I recognized the various hold lines on the pavement. As we came in to St. Louis, I spotted the airport from way out, and watched as we entered the pattern on a 45-degree angle on the downwind leg, then did the base leg, then dropped into the final and came into a landing. That certainly wasn't something I'd known about before.

Those giant jets are so different from my little Piper Warrior that not too much else carried over. With the little airplanes, we always pull over onto a little apron next to the runway to do a runup -- basically, we floor the engine to make sure it isn't going to cough and stop at an inconvenient moment, and check the controls to make sure they actually work before we have to depend on them to, uh, control us.

Not so much in the big jets -- I could see that they were checking the controls shortly after we left the gate, but, as T. pointed out, jets have different failure modes from little gasoline engines. Plus, they have all sorts of controls we don't even have, like leading-edge slots (to increase lift at slow speeds), spoilers (to increase drag and decrease lift during descents and landings), and heck, retractable landing gears.

Still it was kinda cool to be thinking about all the processes that I'd been learning, while seeing it done professionally. Plus, I got a chance to read Stick and Rudder, a classic aviation text I received for Christmas, while flying back...