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Rebutting Some Popular Aviation Myths

Updated on February 8, 2015

Myth 1: Modern commercial aircraft can be flown inverted

In many movies where plane disasters aircraft malfunction are depicted, one often sees pilots flying an aircraft in extreme position, including flying a commercial aircraft up-side-down. While these scenarios are largely altered by the effects added in at later stage of movie-making, commercial jets, in reality, cannot be flown inverted. Flying a commercial aircraft beyond a certain orientation which is deemed extreme by the fly-by-wire system will cause the autopilot to be automatically disengaged, and followed by a slew of disasters in the cabin, of course. Good news is, fighter jets like the F-15 Eagle can be flown inverted (what we usually see in aerobatic aircraft shows), but only for a few seconds.

Supplementary facts

There is only 1 An-225 ever built by Antonov and the giant is still in service today. The production of the second one was said to have begun as early as in year 1988 but was never completed until today due to the lack of funds and the collapse of Soviet Union.

Myth 2: Airbus 380 is the largest aircraft model ever built

The double-decked super jumbo A380 is NOT the largest aircraft ever built. The A380 fall short to the former Soviet Union-built Antonov An-255's overall length, wingspan and load capacity. The An-225 is a six-engine driven cargo aircraft, which is capable of lifting a space shuttle, hence its participation in lifting the Buran space shuttle under the then Soviet Space Programme. Nevertheless, the A380 is undeniably the largest passenger aircraft in the world, breaking the record long held by Boeing-built B747. It can carry a maximum of 850 passengers, beating B747's 660 passengers.

Front view of an Airbus A380
Front view of an Airbus A380 | Source
Length comparison between an A380 (left) and An-225 (right).
Length comparison between an A380 (left) and An-225 (right). | Source

Myth 3: Modern aircraft can land automatically

While automated landing is doable, it is not always possible and pilots usually will not utilize the system when landing under normal weather. You may have heard of the Instrument Landing System (ILS). But what does it do? Will they function to land an aircraft automatically? Well, let me brief you a little bit on what ILS really is: it is a collaboration between a board system in the aircraft and a ground system on the runway to help aircraft with their final approach under very low visibility. Up until today, a lot of airports still do not possess the ground system needed for ILS approach, hence it is not always possible to perform automated landing even if an aircraft has the board system for that particular function. This is also one of the reasons why pilots sometimes abort landing in their planned destination airport and instead switch to another airport nearby during bad weathers- they are looking for airports with the ground system to collaborate with their board system to perform an ILS approach. There are also several weather conditions that need to be met before a pilot can perform landing with the aid of the ILS. In other words, only in a weather that is bad enough will the pilots be permitted to utilise the ILS.

For a more extensive coverage on auto-landing, please refer to this article.

Myth 4: Pilots can doze-off when autopilot is engaged

Pilots must be fully aware during the entire flight. During long-haul flights over a certain amount of hours, one pilot is allowed to take break at a time, and the reserve pilot on board must immediately take-over so that there is two pilots remaining inside the cockpit at all times. This is important not only because pilot needs to amend altitude and headings to avoid collisions and turbulence (an aircraft is steered off-course by wind around 70% of an entire flight duration), they also need to monitor the engine temperatures, and performance of radio devices throughout the entire course of the flight so that they can respond swiftly under good collaboration should a malfunction occur.

Are you preoccupied by the perception that pilots who fly at night are at a higher risk of encountering fatigue than pilots who fly during the day?

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Pilot fatigue is one of the main concerns surrounding aviation safety.
Pilot fatigue is one of the main concerns surrounding aviation safety. | Source

Myth 5: A night flight is more dangerous than a day flight

The perception of low visibility at night and possible pilot fatigue are the reasons why many think that taking a night flight is riskier than taking a day flight. Pilots are, first of all, equipped with the necessary skills of flying aircraft in a circumstances of low or even zero visibility. They must be trained to fly under such condition for many hours before they are granted a certificate to fly commercial aircraft. The modern sophisticated board system on the aircraft would also suffice the requirement of flying and landing an aircraft under zero visibility, therefore the marginal risks of a day flight and a night flight is very insignificant. What more, flying in a clear night is much safer than in a hazy afternoon!

As for pilot fatigue, aviation authorities of many countries are working to combat this by putting new laws into effect. For instance, the US' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had introduced a new rule requiring pilots to get at minimum of 10-hour uninterrupted rest each day. The rule will also push airline companies to impose a limit on the consecutive hours of flight that a pilot can carry out in a day. Therefore, whenever you are on board a flight, be it a day flight or night flight, just sit back and relax as you have nothing to worry about, since you are in the safe hands of strict aviation rules and wide-awake pilots.

Supplementary Facts

Each aircraft in the US are hit by thunder once a year, on average, with no fatality recorded. This tells us how common a thunder strike is to an aircraft, and the fact that it does not threaten a flight.

Myth 6: A thunder strike can disintegrate an aircraft

While pilots will try their best to avoid thunder clouds based on the indications returned by the radar, this does not happen every time, because diversion from the originally planned course will need to be approved by the air traffic control.

Should route amendments are not approved by the ATC for various reasons, pilots will then opt to fly into the thunder clouds. You must think pilots are yelling anxiously and busy responding over the radio when such an event occur, but in reality, your pilots are as cool as cucumbers. Pilots generally see potential thunder strike a normal event. Although flying into thunder clouds can be horrible and panicking, a thunder generally poses little to no safety risk to an aircraft, even though the lightning bolt may temporarily blind the pilots. In fact, modern aircraft are more than capable of absorbing entirely the energy of a normal bolt of thunder, the energy of the thunder will then flow along the outside of the fuselage and be discarded through either the flaps or the tailplane.

Thunder is a common event during a flight. The chances of it causing catastrophic damage or fatality is extremely low.
Thunder is a common event during a flight. The chances of it causing catastrophic damage or fatality is extremely low. | Source
ATR 72-600, a turboprop aircraft widely used in today's short haul domestic flights.
ATR 72-600, a turboprop aircraft widely used in today's short haul domestic flights. | Source

Myth 7: Turboprop driven aircraft is more dangerous than a turbofan driven aircraft

One of the differences between a turboprop aircraft and a turbofan aircraft is the way energy are being generated. A turboprop aircraft generates energy via its propeller, ie. Most of the energy on a turboprop aircraft are used to drive the propeller instead of creating thrust to push the aircraft, hence the cruising speed of most turboprop aircraft are only about half of Turbofan aircraft's. A turbofan aircraft, on the other hand, uses most of its energy in generating thrust and the remaining to drive its gas turbine engine. Due to the large amount of energy needed to drive propellers on a turboprop aircraft, it will inevitably generate more noise than a turbofan aircraft. However, the former is not in anyway more dangerous than the latter. Modern turboprops such as the ATRs are installed with safety features as sophisticated as the turbofan aircraft and they basically make flights incredibly safe.

© 2014 Thomas Chan

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    • profile image

      Baishakhi 2 years ago

      A B52 pilot once told me they have to adjust the wiehgt and balance every year. It seems there are hundreds of wires and pipes that no one understands but no one will remove any of them in case they are important. The original developers have moved on and no one is quite sure about the diagrams left behind!

    • Multivac profile image

      Multivac 2 years ago from planet Earth

      I invite you to check my hub on autoland... is dedicated to you!

    • Thomas Chan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Chan 2 years ago from Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

      Dear Multivac, corrections were made concerning the autoland issue. Thanks again for your feedback and do not hesitate to correct me if u still find inaccurate information.

    • Multivac profile image

      Multivac 2 years ago from planet Earth

      Yeah, since you do normal programming for the MCDU (our navigation computer) and as you are coming for the approach, arming both Auto Pilots,( once the plane captures a valid Localizer and glide slope signal for the ILS), the AP will handle the plane for the approach, flare and the roll out. No input from the pilot is needed, he just needs to confirm that the thrust levers are at idle.

      Ummm... as a curiosity, the A380 can be programmed to break by itself and stop the plane abeam one of the runway exits :)

    • Thomas Chan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Chan 2 years ago from Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

      Thank you Multivac for your information. In fact, I have been studying about aviation as part of my hobbies. I read a lot of magazines about aviation but i would say all of these resources did not confirm (if not strongly deny) the fact that planes can land automatically without input. Therefore your reply really broadens my mind. I am grateful that a professional from the aviation sector like you is correcting me.

    • Multivac profile image

      Multivac 2 years ago from planet Earth

      Dear Thomas,

      Excellent hub but the Myth number 3 needs some corrections. Some airplanes can actually land automatically.

      Currently I'm flying the A320, and following some limitations on crosswind, gross weight ans so, the aircraft can make an autoland in any runway below 2500 feet without any special programming.

      We usually train them in real, we train them every six months in the simulator and we do in real on poor visibility conditions.

      Believe me, the plane lands very well.

      Regards!!!