You wouldn’t believe how long my flight was!

No, I wouldn't. And you probably didn't climb at 45 degrees or drop hundreds of feet either. We love to exaggerate

Topics: Ask the Pilot,

You wouldn't believe how long my flight was! (Credit: graph via Shutterstock)

People love embellishing the sensations of flight. They can’t help it perhaps — nervous fliers especially — but the altitudes, speeds and angles they perceive often aren’t close to the real thing.

During turbulence, for example, people believe that an airplane is dropping hundreds of feet at a time, when in reality the displacement is seldom more than 20 feet or so — barely a twitch on the altimeter.

It’s similar with angles of bank and climb. A typical turn is around 15 degrees, and a steep one might be 25. The sharpest climb is about 20 degrees nose-up, and even a rapid descent is no more severe than 10 degrees nose-down.

I can hear your letters already: You will tell me that I’m lying, and how your flight, was definitely climbing at 45 degrees and banking at 60.

And you’re definitely wrong. I wish that I could take you into a cockpit and demonstrate. I’d show you what a 45-degree climb would actually look like, turning you green in the face. In a 60-degree turn, the G forces would be so strong that you’d hardly be able to lift your legs off the floor.

Also routinely exaggerated are the flight times between cities.

“Oh my god, when I flew from New York to Sydney it took, like, 35 hours.”

Actually it takes about 20 hours. Six hours to the West Coast, then another 14 or so from there. Maybe less, depending on winds and weather.

In his book “The Second Plane,” Martin Amis claims that it takes 10 hours to fly nonstop from Washington, D.C., to London-Heathrow. It does not. Neither does it require another 10 to reach Kuwait City from there. Those legs are about seven hours and six hours, respectively.

In the January 2012 issue of Harper’s magazine, a memoir by Alexandra Fuller describes it taking 12 hours to fly from Wyoming to Mexico City, via Dallas. “Having flown twelve hours through the Christmas midnight.” Really? Twelve hours to go 1,500 nautical miles? That’s an average of 125 miles per hour. Even a four-seat Cessna can beat that.

(Somewhat offsetting this gaffe, in the same issue of Harper’s, as part of his “Easy Chair” essay, the great Thomas Frank gives a rare shout-out to the ’80s punk-pop band the Dickies.)

Of course, maybe it depends how we define a flight. Is it merely the time spent in the cabin, or the journey in full, curbside to curbside: the time checking in, waiting in the security line, connecting between flights, and so forth? Some people obviously include the whole shebang, but I don’t think that’s fair. Too many variables. A 10-hour layover at the airport in Dubai might add to your travel time, but that’s not flying.

At least by my definition, no flight anywhere lasts longer than approximately 18 hours. That being the length of Singapore Airlines’ nonstop between Singapore and Newark, the longest scheduled flight in the world. They use an Airbus A340 decked out in an all-business class configuration.

On one hand 18 hours sounds excruciating, but knowing that airline’s reputation for service and the over-the-top amenities found on its planes, I suspect many passengers are sad when it’s time to land.

- – - – - – - – - -


Re: Air France Flight 447

Numerous readers have written to ask what I think about the recent Popular Mechanics story on the findings pertaining to the 2009 Air France disaster.

I normally don’t have nice things to say about aviation coverage in the media, but this story, written by Jeff Wise, was excellent. It was the best analysis of the accident that I have seen. (Caution: The version that ran in Huffington Post wasn’t nearly as good.)

What I especially appreciated is that he didn’t go hunting for a single tangible cause or try to explain the unexplainable. Why did the crew become so disoriented and react the way it did? Nobody really knows. We can’t know.

One of the article’s more interesting aspects pertains to the design of the Airbus sidestick controllers. Unlike conventional steering columns, which are physically connected and move in unison, the Airbus sidesticks feature asynchronous loading, meaning that inputs made on the captain’s side are not seen or felt on the first officer’s control, and vice versa. Only when contradictory inputs are made does this system register an alarm. While there are valid engineering and human-factor reasons for this design, in the Air France cockpit that night, when all hell was breaking loose, it’s possible that the pilot in the left seat simply didn’t recognize that his colleague in the right seat was inadvertently flying the airplane into a stall.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Do you have questions for Salon’s aviation expert? Contact Patrick Smith through his website and look for answers in a future column.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>