Science

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft

Air travel is one of the most popular modes of transportation today. Whether it is to travel extensively within the country or to visit other countries, airplanes have replaced most other forms of transportation as the preferred option. However, there is still a lot we don’t know about planes and air travel. So, to answer some of your burning questions about them, here are 22 things about commercial aircraft that you probably never knew!

1 Raising aircraft window curtains for take-off and landing can help aircrews evacuate their passengers faster.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Raising airplane window blinds.

Normally, there is very little time for a flight crew to safely evacuate passengers during an emergency (the FAA only seems to allow 90 seconds or less to do this). Therefore, it is somewhat important for flight attendants to assess the situation outside the plane to quickly draw up an exit plan. Leaving the blinds open makes this easier.

2 Although unlikely, it is still possible for you to get stuck in an airplane toilet if you flush it while still seated.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Airplane toilet

Since many commercial aircraft have vacuum toilets, it is possible to get stuck in them if you flush the toilet while still sitting on it. However, this is somewhat unlikely because you would have to form a perfect seal over the toilet. And even if you did, you might actually be able to pull that off with some effort. However, it may still be a good idea to stand before flushing the airplane toilet.

3 Commercial aircraft can fly a great distance even if the engine fails.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Airplane engine

Engine breakdowns happen from time to time, but in most cases you don’t need to panic. For example, commercial aircraft often have more than one engine. Therefore, even if one of them fails, the remaining motors can continue to operate. Furthermore, twin-engine aircraft are given extended-range ETOPS ratings before they are flown over large bodies of water or hazardous terrain. This rating includes an assessment of how long a twin-engine aircraft can fly on one engine.

Finally, in the event of a total loss of the engine, the aircraft could glide safely. However, different planes have different glide ratios. This means that they will lose altitude at different rates, which affects how far they can fly without being pushed by the engines.

4 On some commercial aircraft, the cockpit may contain an escape hatch that provides pilots with an exit in the event of an emergency.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Escape hatch.

This then allows pilots to make a quick flight during emergencies when other exits are blocked. For example, during the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73, the cockpit crew used such an escape hatch to escape from the armed hijackers. The aircraft serving that flight was a Boeing 747, and according to a Boeing spokesperson at the time, those escape hatches were a standard feature on those planes.

5 Food served on planes tastes bland sometimes. This could be because your taste buds are numbed by the cabin atmosphere.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Food served on airplanes.

At thousands of feet in the air, the humidity and cabin pressure are very different from those on the ground. Some experts say this can actually reduce our sensitivity to sweet and salty foods by about 30%. Sometimes, loud noises on an airplane can also affect your ability to taste food. Interestingly, the umami flavor (found in things like tomato juice) seems to be enhanced in the air. Go and deduce!

6 The small, unnoticeable hole in the window of the passenger plane regulates the air pressure between the cabin and the air gap of the parts. It also keeps parts fog-free.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
The tiny, unnoticeable hole in the window of an airplane. Image credits: Chris Waits/Flickr

An airliner window usually has three separate panes. Because the air pressure outside the aircraft is so low, the outside must deal with the difference in pressures between the outside and the inside. The bleed hole then helps balance the air pressure between the passenger compartment and the air gap between the parts so that the outside takes up most of that force. The vent also releases moisture from the air gap and prevents fogging of the windows.

7 The aircraft’s “black box” is nearly indestructible, with memory modules designed to withstand 3400GHz impact and temperatures in excess of 1000C.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Black box

Investigators need to obtain all available information to find out why the accident occurred and to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. For this reason, aircraft are equipped with flight recorders, more commonly known as “black box”, which collect and store data throughout the flight.

To ensure that this data survives a crash, the device is tested under extreme temperature and pressure conditions before it is deployed. Therefore, the critical part of the “black box” that contains memory boards is typically designed to survive 3400GHz shocks and temperatures exceeding 1000C.

8 The oxygen masks in aircraft contain enough oxygen for about 15 minutes, during which the pilot must lower the aircraft to a height suitable for normal breathing.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
The oxygen masks.

If there is a decrease in cabin pressure, oxygen masks on the plane usually drop from the panel above the seats. Then, according to the instructions before take-off, passengers must wear them to cover their nose and mouth and breathe.

The oxygen from this mask lasts about 12 to 15 minutes. Now if this seems short, don’t worry! Experts say this time is more than enough for the flight crew to get you to a lower altitude where you won’t need masks to breathe.

9 The aircraft toilet door can be opened from the outside even after it is locked from the inside.

yes! Even when the aircraft commercial bathroom door is closed from the inside, it can still be opened from the outside if the flight attendant deems it necessary.

It turns out that under the sign that says “toilet” on the door, there is a button or latch that lets them open the door, allowing it to be opened from the outside. But don’t worry, this button is usually only used in emergency situations.

10 Aircrew often have special sleeping quarters on board during long flights.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Image credits: Boeing/BusinessInsider

Long-distance flights often take many hours and very long flights can exceed 18 hours. Therefore, to provide the crew members with the required rest periods, commercial aircraft have a hidden cabin with resting areas. The location and layout of these areas may vary from airline to airline, but most crew rest cabins ultimately look like the inside of a futuristic spaceship.

They are also often given basic supplies such as pillows, blankets, and a seat belt for when there is a disturbance. On the other hand, pilots tend to have their own separate sleeping compartments.

11 A thrust trolley is used to eject the aircraft from its stall position because an aircraft that reverses itself can cause high-speed debris to fly.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Pushback tractor. Image credits: Duc Huy Nguyen/Shutterstock

In aviation, a “bounceback” is an action in which a flying vehicle pushes backwards to eject it from its standing position. These vehicles are called push or tow tractors. Does this mean that the plane is unable to move itself backwards? not necessarily. Many aircraft are already able to use reverse thrust to do this.

However, the resulting high-velocity debris could hurt ground personnel or be sucked into the aircraft’s engines. This may also be associated with increased noise and damage to airport buildings. Therefore, to be safe, the situation response is used as the preferred method of removing aircraft from their parking spaces.

12 wings on the tips of the wings of the aircraft help reduce the amount of fuel used, saving billions of dollars for airlines.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Winglets on the tips of an aircraft.

Most aircraft today have a “spoiler” at the tip of their wing. These ailerons help reduce the natural vortices that form at the tips of the wing and thus reduce the drag induced on the aircraft. In this way, the smaller wing allows aircraft to use up to 5% less fuel. For a typical Boeing 737 passenger airliner, that adds up to 100,000 gallons of fuel per year! Thus, winglets help save billions of dollars for the aviation industry.

13 Airplane windows are always round, not rectangular, to ensure the safety of the aircraft.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Airplane windows.

As we know, the plane has to deal with high air pressure during the flight. With square windows, this meant that their corners formed weak points on the fuselage along which they could disintegrate. The solution then is to use circular windows. Because circular shapes distribute pressure more evenly, circular windows provide more stability to the aircraft, making it safer.

14 Dimming the lights inside the cabin during takeoff and landing helps the eyes adjust to the dark faster. This is crucial during an emergency.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Image credits: Sorbis/Shutterstock

Flight crews usually dim the lights in the cabin during takeoff and landing. But why do they do this? It usually takes about ten minutes for the eyes to fully adjust to the dark. But in an emergency, that would be valuable time lost as passengers and crew try to get used to dimming the lights in situations like a power outage.

Therefore, by dimming the lights in the cabin, it allows the eyes to adjust to the darkness faster. Also, emergency lane lights and markings are more likely to be visible in dim light than in bright lights, making it easier to get off the plane.

15 The wings of the aircraft have a red light and a green light respectively to help us locate the aircraft.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
The wings of an airplane. Image credits: mechstuff.com

The red and green lights on the aircraft’s wings are navigation lights, and help locate the craft to avoid collisions. Initially, they were used on ships and boats for this purpose. Subsequently, this convention was carried out on aircraft as well, with the red light shown on the port (left) side and the green light shown on the starboard (right) side. In civil aviation, pilots are expected to keep the navigation lights on from sunset to sunrise, even after the engine has been shut off at the gate.

16 Commercial aircraft are often struck by lightning. However, they are still considered safe during lightning strikes.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Airplanes are often struck by lightning.

This is because standard commercial aircraft are designed to withstand lightning strikes and usually have electrical systems carefully grounded. Most of them emerge from the lightning bolt either unscathed or with only minor damage. But for your safety, planes that have been struck by lightning are still inspected as soon as they land to make sure everything is working properly.

17 Commercial passenger aircraft often have a lower wing position, while military aircraft have a higher wing position. These positions are selected according to the practical needs of the aircraft.

Therefore, in commercial aircraft, low wings work well with the cabin layout and allow for a passenger deck above and a separate cargo area below. It also makes sure the engine is easy to access and refueling is easier during fast swings. Instead, in military aircraft, high wings provide the required cargo flexibility and operational advantages in rough terrain.

18 The use of mobile phones on board aircraft may interfere with cellular service on the ground and cause disruptions.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Cellphone

In the US, the FCC restricts the use of cell phones on airplanes for this very reason. Active cell phones are likely to pick up signals from multiple towers, causing disruption to service on the ground. Another common reason cited for this practice is that cell phones and other electronic devices may interfere with the aircraft’s sensitive systems.

19 Airplane windows often do not align with the seats because the seats are not placed with any real consideration for the windows.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Airplane window seats

It can be very frustrating if you get a window seat on a plane and discover that there is no window near you. But why aren’t the seating rows always aligned with the windows? The reason for this is that airlines control how seats are placed on their planes and their goal is usually to accommodate as many passengers as possible. Therefore, the seats do not always coincide with the windows.

20 Turbulence is a patch of chaotic air that your aircraft may encounter while in the air. Pilots can often predict this using weather reports and cockpit radar.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Turbulence

Turbulence can be understood as chaotic air currents that make your plane ride bumpy. There are four types of disorders. Clear air turbulence, as its name suggests, is the turbulence you experience even when the air outside seems very clear. On the other hand, thermal turbulence is caused by warm air rising which can form clouds. Then, mechanical turbulence is caused by air flowing around objects on the ground, such as trees or mountains.

Finally, wake turbulence is what an aircraft experiences when it lands behind another aircraft. Pilots can often predict this using weather reports, cockpit radars, and reports from other aircraft. They can also try to avoid turbulence by carefully planning their itineraries.

21 Flight attendants ask you to adjust your seats in the vertical position during landing and takeoff so that evacuation is easier if there is an emergency.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Seats in the upright position.

In the United States, this is also a federal law. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all aircraft seats be upright during takeoff and landing. So, with the seats in the upright position, there is more room for the passengers behind you to step into the aisle to vacate. Also, it is easier to maintain the position of the strut during a crash when the seats are placed upright.

22 Even though airlines have banned smoking, ashtrays can still be found on newer aircraft. This is because aircraft are legally required to have them.

22 things you probably never knew about commercial aircraft
Ashtray on the plane.

Air travelers are often told that smoking is not permitted on board. However, some people may continue to smoke despite all the reminders and warnings. This is why it is legally necessary for aircraft to have ashtrays to provide a safe place to dispose of cigarettes despite smoking bans.

Smith

Tricare west is a global news publication that tells the stories you want to know.

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