Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is The Best Part Taking Off?

A friend wrote today to congratulate me and my countrymen on the 106th anniversary of powered flight in Canada, and then he followed up to ask "is the best part taking off? I always imagine that the best part must always be taking off." And he's right.

You get in and put on your seatbelt and make sure everyone's settled and nothing is in the way, just like heading out for a car trip if you have multiple children inside and pets possibly running around outside. (Don't forget to preflight your car by banging on the hood to evict cats or squirrels that might be snuggling up to your engine block for warmth). You start the engines, and while each one springing into life and turning around is a little victory, especially when it's cold, that's only a little more triumphant than getting the car started. It's nice to see the oil pressure come up, the vacuum pumps show that they are online and sucking, and the alternators come on line and flip the polarity of the charge rate shown on the ammeter, but those are just steps in the preamble. Taxiing to the runway is a bit of a warm up for the pilot, just as the run-up is a warm up for the engines, but finally you're cleared into position on the runway. It's big, like a wide open stretch of three-lane highway with no traffic ahead of you and you know for sure no speed traps. Cleared for take off, you put in the power and feel acceleration, and the rumbling of the tires against the pavement. You keep the airplane aligned with the centreline with your feet. At the correct speed you pull back on the yoke and lift the nosewheel off just a little bit. You wait, and in a few seconds there is no more rumbling. You are in exactly the same attitude, slightly nose up, but now YOU ARE SUSPENDED IN AIR! That's the best part.

Take off is also the part where the most spectacular things can go wrong, so it’s very alert and exciting, as you have to watch all the indications to ensure that none of those things are going wrong, and mostly they don’t go wrong, so that’s a good part too. Imagine that every time before you merged onto the highway you were legally required to recite what you would do if a bad thing happened, so you were all psyched to do whatever one would do if a semi crossed two lanes and tried to take you out. And then you merged and nothing bad happened at all. It’s a mini celebration every time.

I can't imagine the multiplication factor for the thrill of taking off in the Silver Dart in 1909. The aircraft took off from an ice surface, but was on wheels, not skis.Tricycle gear with fairly large, spoked wheels. (On later flights the rear wheels were replaced with skids). The vibration on the take off roll must have been quite juddering. Sea ice is not smooth like a hockey rink and those wheels are not mounted on piston-like oleos the way mine are. The account says that the craft was airborne in about a hundred feet. It would have been very obvious to the pilot the instant the wheels left the ice. People were throwing their hats and mittens in the air. The pilot flew for about half a mile and landed back on the ice, quite gently by his own account.

While a smooth landing is satisfying, and harder to achieve in an airworthy craft than a smooth take off, anything can land. For millennia we could only dream of taking off.


sean said...

What a brilliant post. If your "shutdown" on company posts means that you can spend more time publishing poetry like this - I welcome the new posting style :)
(It reminded me of some of the lovely posts that Capt Dave (who you put me on to) used to do).

LocalFlightEast said...

I am in 100% agreement. Takeoffs are mind-blowingly awesome.

I never want to loose that feeling of " Holy Sh!t I'm airborne" you get when the wheels peel off from the runway.

Get the amount of back pressure right (in the plane I fly anyways) and you don't need to do anything , once you are at the right speed, the plane just takes off all by itself!

Planes want to be in the sky, who am I to argue with them? :)

Josh said...

I do love takeoffs, but to be honest until I'm at about 100-200ft I'm too focussed on "go/no go/is the engine going to go bang as I'm rotating"

A good approach and a decent touchdown are still for me the satisfying part of a flight. Anyone can put the aircraft back on the ground, only some can land smoothly. As ever, passengers' opinion of what a good landing is and mine differ strongly!

RTD8450 said...

Wow! You nailed one of the most exhilarating things that happens when you "defy" gravity. Many thanks!

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Graem said...

Seriously nothing can beat that feeling, when you leave the runway. I've been in plane at least a hundred time and still it kicks me like million volts!

Graem said...

Seriously nothing can beat that feeling, when you leave the runway. I've been in plane at least a hundred time and still it kicks me like million volts!

Scoon said...

Hi, I've been a sporadic reader for a long, long time and just thought I'd check in once again. I read your post about curtailing your company posts, and have come across a situation that I thought might give you something to spend a post on, if it interests you.

Recently one of my friends bought a "Remove before flight" keychain tag. I am planning on travelling a fair bit in the mid-term future, and am also a fan of "life hacks" to make things easier, and so was thinking about using one of these tags.

Last time I travelled I made the horrible last minute mistake of thinking that a line of red spray paint around my bag would clearly mark it out on the luggage carosel. It did, but I also ended up with a pair of jeans with a nice red stripe down one leg from carrying the bag up stairs.

I noticed my buddy's tag is durable, easily visible, cheap and not stupid looking (which a lot of luggage tags seem to be). However, there's no chance in hell I want to risk my bags being removed or witheld from the cargo bay of any flight I'm on when the handlers see "remove before flight". So I had a look on ebay and found that there are several tags of similar size, shape and material with "Crew" or "Flight Crew" embroidered on them.

Now, I'm not flight crew so I won't be using them. Instead I'm going to try and find somewhere that will make me a custom one with my nickname on it instead. However, it made me wonder: what would happen to my bags on a commercial international flight with one of these tags on?

Do crew bags get treated differently by the handlers (both in terms of roughness of handling as well as location for storage)? Is it likely that the bags will just come out on the carosel as normal, or do flight crew bags get taken to a different location for pickup? That is of course assuming they take any checked luggage. Do international flight crew even use special tags like that?

Thanks for the awesome blog, and keep up the good work :)


DeAnn said...

I adore the beautifully executed landing. Departure is fun and a really neat transition, but I feel that the airplane "does the work" of the climb and I've left with clean up if it doesn't perform as it is expected to. Like another comment or, I e pertinence takeoff and climb as a continuous mental scroll through "if that, then this". I like takeoff. Don't get me wrong, it's all good! For me, the finesse is more in the landing stages.

Lovely post as usual.

Unknown said...

I' ve recently gained a new perspective on all this. I'm halfway through my glider conversion training course. Having only one chance to get it right, but in an elegant aircraft with a 30+ to 1 glide ratio is an absolute rush.

As some have already mentioned, the takeoff in gliders is likewise demanding, with a continual decision tree PDM "thing" going on in my head. Below 200 AGL - rope breaks or other problems - land straight ahead on whatever is available... Above 200 AGL - execute a 180 return to the runway (200! and it works quite easily... neat). Above 800 AGL complete a normal circuit...

And while thinking about this, I'm trying to fly formation on the towplane! Yikes...that's different and challenging.

By contrast the glides down to a gentle and precise landing, hitting the key points "on energy" all the way along (especially after floating on thermals and waves for an hour or more) are a real hoot. So my vote is also for landings.