Most of us look forward to getting away on holiday at least once and year, and for many a trip on a plane is all part of the adventure. Taking a flight is full of procedures nowadays, from opening blinds to putting your tray table up, but have you ever stopped to wonder why?
Phillip Riddell is a pilot with years of worldwide experience with airline, presidential and royal flight operations, and was the youngest man, at just 19, to fly a jet aircraft solo.
Phil also gives up his time to fast taxi vintage jets at air shows
Having grown up living in Burnaston, Phil spent many years as a bush pilot in East Africa, before going on to fly privately owned large aircraft. With so much experience we decided to throw some much asked questions his way to see what we could find out:
BM: What would happen if you accidentally left a mobile or iPad on during take-off?
PR: Bit of a long answer; it's an ongoing question.
Portable electronic devices can sometimes interfere with hard-wired appliances and aerial reception.
Therein lies most of the problem.
Aircraft have their own electronic architecture, which is tested and designed to avoid interference from other onboard equipment.
This design gives consideration to the location of external aerials and their proximity to transmission wiring of related and unrelated systems.
Items brought on board become a variable. In some cases it is, in fact, or by precaution safer, not to have these items operating in any capacity during take-off and landing.
Usually items that are otherwise permitted and deemed as very low risk, are required to be switched off during the initial and final phases of a flight, however, most airlines now permit portable devices to be used during take-off and landing providing they are fitted with a "flight safe mode" and the mode is turned on.
From a safety aspect, it is also vital that passengers and crew are able to communicate effectively, during these same important phases of flight.
Whilst there seems to be endless debate on various items of personal electronic equipment, and a lot of confusion surrounding what is and is not permitted, there is no doubt that some of this equipment does cause distraction and possible adverse effect.
Most pilots (including myself) have had mobile signal acquisition continuous "blips" running through their headphones due to a nearby mobile phone being switched on when it shouldn't be.
Not all electronic interference is predictable or fully understood, and where any doubt or concern exists, the safest and simplest solution is to switch it off.
BM: Why do the blinds need to be open on take-off and landing?
PR: Window blinds being open is a small part of a long preparation process. Passengers are asked to open window blinds before take- off and landing because these are considered to be higher risk phases of a flight.
Therefore passengers are asked to open window blinds along with other things, such as "seats in upright position, people seated and seat belts fastened" etc. to make sure everything is prepared in the event of an emergency, were the cabin crew are required to evacuate the aircraft within 90 seconds.
Other Specific reasons behind the window blinds being open include:
In case of sudden emergencies, every second counts. Therefore if blinds are open the cabin crew can easily see the outside conditions to help them in planning the evacuation (which emergency exit doors to use for evacuation etc.).
In case of emergency during the take- off and landing passengers should be prepared just in case. So during daytime, opening window blinds and putting cabin lights to full bright makes the eyes used to sunlight so if something goes wrong and passengers need to be evacuated there will not be a sudden change in light contrast which might lead to temporary vision problems. Same thing during night flights, window blinds are open and cabin lights are dimmed.
It also helps ground emergency personnel outside to see the inside of the cabin.
BM: Is it possible for someone to open the door while in the air?
PR: Why would you want to try and open an aircraft door at 30,000 feet where the temperature is between -50 & -70 degrees C?
Even if you did, it is not possible to open a pressurized aircraft door during flight. The air pressure inside the cabin is greater than the outside, therefore the Cabin pressure won't allow it.
Think of an aircraft door as a drain plug in a bath, fixed in place by the water pressure, takes quite a tug to pull it out, doesn't it. Almost all aircraft exits open inward and are called lug doors. Some retract upward into the ceiling; others swing outward; but most open inwards first.
The doors are further secured by a series of electrical and/or mechanical latches that prevent the door being opened in flight.
Phil now enjoys flying his biplane for fun (Geoff Girvan-Merryweather)
BM: Can turbulence make a plane crash?
PR: The short answer is no. Although it can make it uncomfortable for the passengers and crew
Turbulence is categorised in intensities:
Light - Occupants may feel a slight strain against seat belts or shoulder straps. Unsecured objects may be displaced slightly. Food and bar service is normally continued. Your Gin & Tonic may show a slight ripple on the surface.
Moderate - Occupants feel definite strains against seat belts or shoulder straps. Unsecured
objects may be dislodged. Food service and walking can be difficult. Your Gin & Tonic will probably need to be held in hand with a possible temptation to drink, "Hic"
Severe - Occupants are forced against seat belts or shoulder straps.
Unsecured objects may fly about. Food Service and walking are impossible or become very messy. Your Gin & Tonic will definitely be held in hand and probably to mouth with the intention of downing in one, "Hic".
BM: Is it possible for a plane's engine to 'stall' mid-air?
PR: We call this engine flameout and can and has happened, but this is very rare and would have little noticeable effect on the flight, as all aircraft are required to maintain flight on one engine on a two engine aircraft.
Engine flameout can be caused by a number of things such as:
Severe weather activity and volcanic ash, although the pilots would be aware of this with special flight deck equipment and would take every precaution to avoid.
Fuel starvation, although we go to great lengths to avoid running out of fuel.
And finally, due to mechanical problems, which again is very rare.
BM: Why do you have to put your tray table up during take-off and landing?
PR: This is to provide easy access from your seat in the event of an emergency evacuation.
BM: Why do the lights sometimes go out just before take-off?
PR: In case of emergency, during the take-off and landing passengers should be prepared just in case. So during daytime, opening window blinds and putting cabin lights to full bright makes the eyes used to sunlight so if something goes wrong and passengers need to be evacuated there will not be a sudden change in light contrast which might lead to temporary vision problems. Same thing during night flights, window blinds are open and cabin lights are dimmed.
BM: When the plane is starting to climb, suddenly it can sound like the engine's cut out - what's that all about?
PR: During the take-off the engines are accelerated to a pre-determined power setting to achieve the take-off and initial climb safely. At a certain point after take-off the engine power is then reduced to what we call "Climb Thrust" and that is the sudden sound reduction you can hear as the plane starts to climb.
BM: What would happen if the pilot took ill during the flight?
PR: Although all commercial pilots are required to undergo a strict medical check every 6 Months, should one pilot fall ill during flight the second pilot is training to fly the aircraft and would probably divert and land at the nearest suitable airport or continue, depending on the severity of the problem.
BM: What happens if a plane gets struck by lightning?.
PR: If the plane was struck, lightning typically attaches to an airplane extremity at one spot and exits from another, usually a strike to the nose, forward fuselage or wing tips. The electrical charge or strike would then pass to the tail where it then exits. During the initial stages of a lightning strike on an airplane, a glow may be seen on the nose or wing tips. However, damage to the plane is very rare.
BM: Is it safer to fly in the day or in the night?
PR: There is no difference. Long haul flights heading Eastbound usually depart during the early night hours to arrive at their destination during the day. All navigation is done through computers that have no idea if its day or night.
BM: How close can you get to another plane without it being dangerous?
PR: Providing you don't touch each other, then that's a bonus in the case of the Red Arrows.
During your flight you will have at least a vertical separation of 1,000 feet between your plane and one either above or below. All aircraft are also fitted with systems that will tell the pilots of any other aircraft that may be coming close.
BM: Are pilots allowed to eat and play music during the flight?
PR: Only at Christmas and special occasions, but no dancing allowed! Eat "yes" Music "no"
BM: Sometimes the seatbelt light comes on when there doesn't seem to be a reason - why is that?
PR: This would happen if there is the possibility of entering an area of potential light turbulence.
BM: Do you ever get scared?
PR: Only if I encounter any of the above.