Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remember to Clap When You Land

Glide in Landing by Peter Welleman
Flying an airplane, launching on a rocket or the space shuttle bears some injustice, almost mockery of the operator of the aircraft or spacecraft. Every student pilot and astronaut needs to face the irony, almost ugly truth - taking off is much easier than landing.

With a little guidance and reasonable weather almost anyone could take off, at least on the kind of airplane I'm learning to pilot - Cessna 172. Beyond taxing to the runway, adjusting the fuel-air mixture and lining up with the runway centerline, one applies full power, pulls the yoke at an airspeed of 55 knots and presto! The airplane is airborne. On a rocket inside a capsule or a shuttle? Well, once SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) are ignited (and that's initiated from outside the spacecraft), there isn't much to do apart from enjoying the Gs. Yes, I know that there's more to taking off with a small airplane, space shuttle and anything in between, but compared to what is required during landing that's easy as pie.

What happens between takeoff and landing is interesting but out of scope for this train of thought. Pilots usually go from point A to point B on Earth, astronauts (at least the ones in the past 35 years) travel many miles only to land (if all goes well) oh so close to where they launched from and private pilot students making the first few air-steps like me practice maneuvers.

Landing is a whole different ballgame. Landing, figuratively and literally, is where the rubber meets the road whether you're in an airplane that weighs less than a car or a space shuttle that's coming back from orbit. Even with the simple Cessna, there's a procedure to follow which entails specific speeds, communication, timing, flaps, throttle, altitude and pitch. It is an art of anticipation and precision. It is the stage of flight requiring most finesse and focus.

All that is in stark contrast to the two dimensional travel more widely known as driving, where stopping a car simply means stepping on the breaks, as the vehicle is almost always on that surface called road (except for San Francisco car chases in movies, that is).

Being a student pilot made me appreciate a little more a custom of clapping upon landing on airline flights to Israel. Needless to say, no one claps their hands after taking off...

1 comment:

PillowNaut said...

Easy for you to say! I'm learning all sorts of new words. I love your descriptions of landings, because on commercial flights, that is always what I am thinking during landing: "Oh, Please let this guy be totally sober, and have FINESSE AND FOCUS."