Fear no. 9 – Falling out of the sky
Why don't aircraft fall out of the sky is a question we get asked on a lot of courses.
Some of the reasons we would have covered earlier on as you know. I will revisit those and add in some other reasons why you might think that they do but don't.
I could tell you that aircraft don't just fall out of the sky 50 million times but you may not believe me. It takes a lot of people that come on our courses to hear it from a professional Captain to dispel this idea.
Below are some reasons why you might think and some answers to hopefully help you...
By the way, when aircraft are up there travelling along at 400 miles an hour in clear open space, what could suddenly make it suddenly fall out of the sky?
If you were driving along the motorway at 80 miles an hour and then you suddenly turned the engine off, what would happen?
Your car would slow down gradually until it came to a gentle stop. If you happened to be at the top of a massive hill it might never slow down and could even speed up a bit depending on how steep the hill was. This is the effect of gravity.
Now imagine your worst scenario and at 30,000 feet up in the air, all of the aircraft engines suddenly stopped working. This in terms in likelihood is virtually impossible due to their reliability but hey ho let's talk about it.
The engines all stop. What happens to you?
You glide. As the aircraft is gliding, you will be using gravity to pick up speed because you will increase the air flow across the wings.
But how far would you glide for then?
Well if you were 30,000 feet up in the air, you would glide quite comfortably approximately three miles for every 1,000 feet of altitude. So, you would glide for approx 90 miles and you could land without engines too.
Below are some of the reasons we have been asked about what could allegedly bring an aircraft down and some sample answers on why it is not so.
Fuel runs out.
Not possible because airlines always carry much more fuel than they need. They carry enough to go to their location, hold and go to two alternate airports that were already decided upon before the aircraft took off. If the weather report is looking poor for the destination airport, they will carry contingency fuel for that reason.
As you know these don't exist.
Uncomfortable but not dangerous if you are strapped into your seat. Even if an aircraft changed altitude by 1,000 feet up or down, it is travelling at 400 miles an hour. This means that it does not drop suddenly, it changes altitude over a distance. It feels like it drops suddenly and dramatically because you are not able to see outside and you have no sense of perspective due to our primitive ground dwelling senses tricking us.
Has no effect on the aircraft as we are not grounded.
Wings fall off.
Can't fall off as the aircraft is built onto the wing spa not bolted on afterwards. When you look out the window at the wing, it moves up and down by up to 12 feet - it is meant to do that. It is normal.
The engines are spread well apart far wider than the average flock of birds. Engines are tested at manufacture by firing frozen chickens at them to make sure that they keep going. If they are hit by something huge like the rare incident over the Hudson (a one in a million flock of Canada Geese), they have been tested to contain the damage within the engine.
Shows up on Radar so no-one flies near them.
Same as above.
Always minimum of two pilots both capable of flying to same standard. Pilots eat separate food in case of food poisoning.
At least two back ups plus can be flown manually.
Engines fall off.
Highly unlikely but aircraft would glide and land.
Masks would come down as soon as the pressure got to 14,000 feet. The Oxygen systems contain enough to keep us alive. The pilots would then take the aircraft down to 10,000 ft where we can breathe normally anyway. The pilots are on separate oxygen systems to us passengers.
Computer fails onboard.
There are always back up computers that can do the job.
Always spare systems that can take over.
Now, really there can't be anything else can there!? Aircraft are the safest way to travel FACT.
No other industry puts so much effort into thinking WHAT IF...
Paul and Richard
Virgin Atlantic Flying Without Fear