Category Flying and Gliding

Still Another Kennedy Tragedy

When news reports that Kennedy’s plane was missing were first broadcast on a Saturday morning in July 1999, the country held its breath. Yet again the Kennedy family was threatened with tragedy, and painful memories were reawakened.

As details of Kennedy’s last minutes of flight began to emerge from the National Transportation Safety Board investigators whose job is to investigate fatal airplane accidents, pilots around the world felt an even deeper pain. Many could imagine themselves in the cockpit of Kennedy’s Piper Saratoga, frightened and bewildered as events sped out of control. As days passed and details came to light about the plane’s radar track, investigators, the press, and the public gradually acknowledged that John Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette were almost certainly dead.

Still Another Kennedy Tragedy

By the Book

Air-traffic controllers track air­planes using radar, which transmits a radio signal, then listens for it to bounce back from an object. The longer a signal takes to bounce back, the farther away the object is. Radar equipment automatically records the radar images, or visual description of these signals, and if necessary, investigators can recon­struct an aircraft’s radar track, a kind of motion picture of its movements, including its altitude, speed, and location.

Still Another Kennedy Tragedy

By the Book

The Piper Saratoga is a high – performance single-engine air­plane that can carry a pilot and as many as five passengers (although some Piper Saratogas are equip­ped with a luxurious executive console that takes up one seat). The Saratoga can fly for more than 850 miles without refueling at a cruise speed of 175 knob, or 200 miles an hour. A new Saratoga cosb about $400,000.

Before we look into the combination of circumstances and bad decisions that probably led, step by step, to Kennedy’s crash, we should review how Kennedy and the Bessette sisters spent their last few hours. The chain of events that led to the crash started many hours before Kennedy’s Piper Saratoga hit the waters of Rhode Island Sound.

John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Final Flight

John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Final Flight

In This Chapter

► A chain of decision* that led to disaster

>■ The radar records of Kennedy’s last minutes

► The "graveyard spiral"—one of flying’s most violent killers

► Night flight and the body’s sense of balance

Flying is first and foremost a matter of managing risk. Beyond all the skills that must be mastered and the academic knowledge that must be learned, the practice of safe flying is an unending determination to discover hidden risk and prevent it from becoming a danger.

It happens all the time—a pilot has to balance the pressure he feels to make a certain flight against the risk factors the flight might have. Perhaps a pilot has to weigh the benefit of flying a particular route against hazardous weather conditions or the scarcity of emergency landing fields. And sometimes he has to assess his own skill level against the demands of a flight—the most difficult risk factor to judge objectively.

It was this sort of a balancing of risks that John F. Kennedy Jr. was faced with in the hours that led to a flight from New Jersey to Cape Cod in July 1999. He balanced the hazards of hazy weather and poor visibility against his skills as an eyeball-only pilot—a pilot who needed to be able to see the ground in order to fly safely.

As history shows, Kennedy made a deadly mistake in assessing the risks of that flight. He wasn’t the first pilot to underestimate the power of the elements or to overestimate the skills he brought to the cockpit. Thousands of pilots have made similarly poor decisions. Although for most of these flyers, fate was usually more forgiving, the tragedy of JFK Jr. is an example ofjust how serious the consequences of a bad flying decision can be.

Payne Stewart’s Last Flight: Explosive Decompression

One of the eeriest aviation tragedies in history happened in the fall of 1999. The story received big headlines not only because of the macabre circumstances surrounding the deaths of six people aboard a Learjet 35, but because one of the dead was popular golfer Payne Stewart.

In October 1999 Stewart boarded a Learjet for a flight from Sanford, Florida (near Orlando), to Dallas, where he was scheduled to golf in a tournament. Everything about the flight appeared to be going normally until the jet reached Gainesville at an altitude of 39,000 feet. At about that time, just 20 minutes into the flight, the plane stopped communicating with air-traffic controllers and failed to make a westward turn toward Dallas. Silently, it continued northwest.

When controllers, who had been trying for an hour, still couldn’t reach the plane, Air Force jets took off to intercept it and try to figure out what was wrong. The jet pilots caught up to the Learjet and watched it roller-coaster up and down, reaching as high as 45,000 feet at times. The inside of the jet’s windows were frosted over, an indication that no one on board was alive, or at least not able to scrape the frost away. The jet finally ran out of fuel and crashed in a remote field in South Dakota.

Payne Stewart's Last Flight: Explosive Decompression

The frost on the inside of the Learjefs windows tells most of the story. It points to an in-flight catastrophe that is the stuff of disaster films, but something very rare in real life—an explosive decompression.

Jetliners, and all high-altitude jets for that matter, are pressurized using excess air from the engines. Jet engines compress far more air than they can mix with fuel for burning and thrust. Designers put the excess compressed air to work, in part, to pressurize the cabin.

In order to provide a flow of fresh air and to give pilots a method for controlling cabin pressure, a valve in the cabin allows air coming in from the engines to rush out through a hole in the airplane. In the case of the Payne Stewart crash, investigators will look at the pressure valve to see if it somehow failed, causing the pressure in the cabin to plummet immediately.

If the valve did fail to regulate properly, or something else caused the pressure to drop, the water vapor inside the cabin would have suddenly condensed into a fog, and the temperature at 39,000 feet, about 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, would have caused the fog to freeze instantly onto everything in the cabin, including the windows.

Подпись: Turbulence One cause of explosive decompression is bird strikes, particularly those involving large, migratory birds such as Canada geese. Migrating geese have been spotted by pilots at altitudes well above 20,000 feet, and they are difficult to see until it's too late. A goose hitting the windshield of an airliner at cruise speed can shatter the glass and depressurize the cabin, forcing pilots to make a rapid emergency descent

More important for the passengers and crew, humans lose consciousness within 6 to 12 seconds at an altitude of 39,000 feet in case of decompression. The pilots were equipped with emergency oxygen masks, but if they were slow to react and put them on, they might have been knocked out within seconds and could have suffocated in a matter minutes. The same goes for Stewart and the other passengers in the cabin. Perhaps they were unable to see the emergency masks drop from the ceiling of the Learjet because of the fog. The point is, any delay in reacting would have been fatal.

Gruesome as it is to think of the “flying coffin” that Payne Stewart’s Learjet had become, we must remind ourselves that such tragedies are incredibly rare. Airplane mechanics are some of the best-trained and safety-oriented people in aviation, and many regard any system failure on an airplane they are responsible for, regardless how minor, as a personal affront.

Some accidents are like bolts of lightning, completely unpredictable and, for that reason, not worth worrying about beyond taking reasonable precautions. Other accidents, unfortunately, occur because of human error. What pilots can do in either event, though, is to make sure they continue to receive the very best training so that when the rare emergency happens, they’ll be ready to respond safely.

The Least You Need to Know

V Airplane accidents rarely occur, but grab headlines when they do.

V Ice on an airplane’s wings adds weight and destroys I if t – cl dangerous combination.

► Airline passengers are taking out their frustrations with expensive tickets and cramped seats in "air rage."

► The macabre decompression disaster that killed Payne Stewart was caused by a very rare mechanical failure.

1 1 …………………… J


In recent years, microbursts have been blamed on a number of fatal airline crashes, including the crash of Delta Airlines Flight 191 in Dallas in 1985. They are part of the normal life cycle of thunderstorms, but they remained a mystery until the 1970s.

Microbursts are narrow flumes of cold air a half – mile to two miles wide that gush downward from the bottom of thunderstorms. When the air strikes the ground, it sprays outward horizontally in all directions.

Microbursts can be insidious. Airplanes run the risk of flying into them during landing, because most other times during flight, planes fly above the clouds rather than below them, where microbursts are found. Because the plane is so low to the ground and slow in a landing configuration, this is also the phase of a flight when a plane would be most vulnerable to a violent burst of downward-rushing air.

The first sign of flying into a microburst is often what looks like an increase in airspeed on the airspeed indicator. In fact, if s the horizontal rush of air at the bottom of a microburst that causes this phantom speed increase. Most pilots instinctively pull back the throttle to try to hold the airspeed close to a safe landing speed.

That is the wrong thing to do. Very soon the plane passes into the downdraft region of the microburst. With the throttle reduced and the power setting low, the plane can be pushed down very fast, and in a jet engine, the spool-up time can be several seconds. Flying low, slow, and with reduced power, an airplane can be in real danger if the microburst happens to be lurking near the runway, as it was in Dallas when Delta Flight 191 flew in.

For small-plane pilots, a safe practice when a sudden, unexplained airspeed increase occurs would be to “go around.” During a go-around, a pilot adds full power, begins to climb to an appropriate altitude, and begins another landing approach. That option is always available to a pilot, and is almost always a safe way to handle a doubtful landing.

MicroburstsPlane Talk

In late 1999, one of the most unusual emergencies I’ve ever heard of took place at the Plant City, Florida, airport A Cessna 152 trainer and a Piper Cadet were both on final approach to land, but neither saw the other. About 200 feet off the ground, the Piper’s landing gear punched through the cockpit window of the Cessna and got stuck there. The Cessna pilot continued to the runway and landed, despite the airplane tire blocking his view. None of the four people in the two airplanes were hurt Now that’s a calm response to an emergency.

“Captain, the Passengers are Revolting”

Ask many airline pilots the worst part of flying a passenger jet, and some will probably say, “the passengers.” It’s partly a joke, but many pilots find that the majority of the hassles of an airline pilot’s job don’t stem from weather, mechanical trouble, or the rigors of living out of a suitcase. Most of the woes that keep pilots awake at night come from passengers.

In the past couple of years, passengers have begun to openly revolt against what some say is a case of airlines taking passengers for granted and being callous toward complaints about safety, comfort, and on-time performance. The phenomenon has a name: air rage.

Some recent incidents of air rage:

• A woman whose job is to travel on airlines checking the quality of flight crews’ performance allegedly slapped a British Airways flight attendant who tried to stop her from excessive drinking. The accused assailant also worked for British Airways.

• A college student reportedly had to be tied down after he got out of his seat during a flight, began offering passengers “eternal salvation,” and insisted on visiting the cockpit to bless the flight crew.

• Pop singer Diana Ross was questioned in London in 1999 after she threw a fit, claiming that a female security guard at Heathrow Airport had touched her breast during a search. According to witnesses, Ross hollered at the guard, then touched her on the breast in retaliation.

• A banker assaulted a flight attendant and defecated on a food cart. He was fined $50,000.

• A passenger on a Hungarian airline flight paid the ultimate price for air rage. He was tied to his seat by other passengers, and a doctor on board injected him with a tranquilizer. He died before the airplane landed, probably from a bad reaction between the tranquilizer and alcohol or other drugs in his body.

The airlines behave as though they have a monopoly, because at some airports and over some routes, they do have a monopoly in practice, if not in law. And with monopolies comes a certain arrogance and disregard of passengers.


Plane Talk

Pilots may or may not have good reason to complain about passengers, but there are some occasions when passengers have legitimate gripes about the crew. In 1999, an airline captain was fired because he walked off the airplane, leaving a planeload of impatient passengers and a crew svondering what to do next The reason the pilot left: He hadn’t eaten for hours, and he was determined to get a bite to eat – …. ________________

Quality and courtesy of service gets worse every year, airlines sell more tickets than the plane has seats, and planes get more and more cramped as airlines try to stuff more passengers on every flight. Air ventilation is poor, luggage is lost or delayed, food is sometimes unappetizing (when it’s offered at all), inconsiderate parents let children cry and kick other passengers’ seats, and alcohol is sold to passengers who don’t handle it well. Some improvements are actually vetoed by airlines, who complain those improvements would cut into profits.

But the increase in air rage incidents, which British Airways alone says has risen 400 percent over the past three years, could be partly due to increased public attention. In other words, there’s a “buzz” in the media about air rage.

Needless to say, neither the airplane nor the airport is the right place for passengers to act out their anger. For reasons of safety, the FAA and other agencies have clamped down on misbehavior in airports and on airplanes. Bad behavior on a plane or in an airport can carry felony charges and possibly years behind bars.

Whether we like it or not, the United States government is looking into airline shenanigans and the passenger rage they provoke. Some airlines have promised, on their honor, to make things better. Organizations supported by the airlines say they’re satisfied with the promises, while passenger advocates remind us that we’ve heard

Microburststhese promises from airlines before. In the end, airlines will probably resist any attempt to force them to clean up their acts.

Plane Talk

Airline cockpits are pressurized to altitudes of about 5,000 to 8,000 feet, meaning the body only gets as much oxygen as it would if it were high on a mountain. The low air pressure has a magnifying effect on alcohol, making a small amount of wine, beer, or cocktails seem like a more potent drink. In other words, a slightly tipsy passenger on the ground can turn into a raging drunk in the air

Here’s some tips that will help fend off air rage:

• Call the airline before you leave home to make sure your flight will depart on time. If your flight is delayed, don’t leave for the airport until later so you won’t be stewing in the terminal.

• Write down your ticket confirmation number somewhere so that if you lose your ticket, airline computers can find your records easily.

• Get out of line. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, while your fellow travelers are boiling in line, get on the phone with your travel agent and get him or her to do the work for you.

• If you change travel plans a lot, carry a flight guide to help you make alternate plans.

• Bring your own munchies, so if the plane is late you’re not going to starve, and you won’t have to be robbed by exorbitantly overpriced airport restaurants. Besides, whatever you bring is bound to be better than any meal served in coach class.

Icy Wings

Wing icing is one of the most frightening sights the pilot of a small airplane can see during flight. In medium and large airplanes and jetliners, special on-board equipment such as heated wing surfaces or inflatable rubber bladders on the leading edge of a wing can get rid of ice. But in small airplanes, the situation can be life – threatening if it’s not taken care of right away.

Ice accumulates on wings a couple of ways, either while flying in clouds—something only specially trained instrument pilots are allowed to do—or during a rainstorm in very cold weather.

Icy Wings


Wing» aren’t the only part of the plane that can become covered with ice. Radio antennae can col­lect ice, which can block or dis­tort radio signals, and even cause antennas to break off. The leading edge of propeller blades can build up ice layers, which can shake the engine violently because of unbal­anced ice loads. Cockpit wind­shields can also collect thick layers of ice, blinding the pilot unless she acb right away.

Icing happens when the temperature is at or below freezing, with the water still in a liquid state. Contrary to common belief, water can remain liquid in temperatures as cold as several degrees below freezing, so-called “supercooled” water. As soon as something strikes a droplet of super-cooled water, it instantly freezes. Supercooled water in the form of tiny droplets in a cloud or supercooled water in the form of large raindrops, called freezing rain, can rapidly build up ice layers on the wings, tail surfaces, propellers, antennae and landing gear—virtually any structure on the airplane.

Icing creates two major problems: It adds massive amounts of weight to the plane, and it disrupts the smooth, aerodynamic flow of air over the airplane’s lift-producing surfaces.

The solution is to quickly fly toward warmer air. Depending on the weather conditions, warmer air might be back in the direction you came from. In other cases, lower altitude might be the right place to go. And in some special circumstances, there might be a layer of warmer air at a higher altitude, even though air temperature typically decreases at higher altitudes.

Icy Wings

Plane Talk

In spite of the complicated systems devised to get rid of it, icing has even been blamed for some commercial airline crashes. In January 1997, a Comair Airlines flight crashed and killed all 29 passengers and crew members aboard flight 3272 from Cincinnati/Northem Kentucky International Airport to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The air­plane, a Brazilian-made Embraer propeller-driven plane, accumulated a layer of icing and began to lose control, perhaps before its pilots recognized the danger. Icing can happen on the ground, too, which is sometimes the cause of takeoff delays in cold weather as air­port trucks spray de-icing fluid on the wings. The increased safety is worth the wait

De-icing equipment is not common on small planes for a few reasons. Some de-icing equipment is very expensive and would send the price of the airplane sky-high. It also adds extra equipment that must be inspected and maintained, adding still more cost to the expense of flying.

What’s more, most small sport planes aren’t really meant for bad weather flying. They are sometimes equipped with the flight instruments and navigation radios needed to fly in clouds, but icing is something that pilots of small – and medium-size airplanes try to avoid, even if they are equipped with de-icing gear.

Training for Engine Failure

During flight training, instructors try to create the same sense of surprise that a pilot would feel if an engine actually failed unexpectedly in flight. The first few times a student hears the engine sputter or even die, he has a momentary fear response, but regular training turns a tendency to panic into a rational procedure of problem­solving—exactly the goal training is supposed to achieve.

When simulating a failed engine, an instructor reduces the throttle to idle. A real engine failure can include a power reduction that doesn’t leave enough power to continue very far. The most urgent form of

engine failure, however, is when the whole thing stops running. (Actually, in most cases, when an engine stops creating power, the propeller still continues to spin, being driven by the force of the wind like a big, metal pinwheel.)

The Unscheduled Landing

At the first sign of an engine failure, a pilot makes sure he’s at a safe speed, then begins to plan a place to land. Depending on the terrain, coming up with a plan can range from simple to difficult. In the Midwest or desert Southwest, for example, flat terrain often lies on all sides, and most anyplace holds some potential as a landing strip. In mountainous areas or over densely populated cities, the options are far fewer.

Using well-practiced gliding techniques that are part of every sport pilot’s training, the pilot circles the landing site and makes a surprisingly normal approach to the field. Because most engine failures or losses of engine power don’t affect the plane’s battery or electrical system, all the radios work, so the pilot can radio his location and important details to help rescuers find the plane.

Training for Engine Failure


Вселив forced landing* and other emergency procedure* are complicated by remote, moun­tainous terrain, pilots who fly in those regions should get special­ized training from experienced instructors. In desert areas, too. pilots should learn some funda­mental survival techniques, just, in cate.

Training for Engine Failure

On Course

Do you think that once a pilot receives her certificate, she no longer needs to fly with a flight instructor? In fact, good pilots continue to work with flight instructors to hone some skills and to develop new ones that go beyond the basics needed to receive a pilot certificate. One of the most important skills to prac­tice regularly with an instructor is responding to emergencies.

Despite an understandably bad reputation, emergency landings are almost always safe, with no injuries to people and no damage to airplanes. Once the problem with the engine is fixed, many planes take off from the same open field they landed in.

When the Engine Stops

The in-flight emergency most feared by pilots of single-engine planes is engine failure. Statistically, the number of times that airplanes lose power and have to make a forced landing is extremely low. And most of those cases end relatively happily, with a rough landing on a golf course or on a state highway, perhaps.

Airplane engines can fail for a number of reasons. Most of the time it’s because the pilot failed to make sure she had enough fuel on board to complete the flight. T rue, airplanes have fuel gauges that display how much fuel remains in each tank, but as hard as it is to believe, some careless pilots manage to run the tanks dry, leaving no alternative but a forced landing. (Emergency landings go by many names, including “off-airport landing” and “unscheduled landing,” but no matter how much pilots try to soften the tone, forced landings are emergencies.)

I should mention that, though it has happened on rare occasions, airliners rarely run low on gas, let alone completely out of it. Airlines and the FAA have strict rules that are meant to guarantee there’s enough fuel to finish a flight with plenty of fuel to spare.

Airplane engines sometimes catch fire, and one of the prime culprits is the fuel system. If an engine catches fire, a pilot will shut it down and begin to plan for an emergency landing. Also, fuel systems are prone to all sorts of blockages caused by debris in the fuel or failure of the mechanical pumps that push fuel into the engine. In cases like these, if backup equipment such as a second fuel pump or a valve to switch to another fuel tank can’t solve the problem, the airplane will lose power and probably won’t be able to continue all the way to its destination.

When the Engine Stops

On Course

I In planes with two or more j engines, one engine can fail in I cruise flight without causing a disaster. Twin-engine prop-drrven airplanes might be able to con­tinue with only a slight decrease in airspeed and altitude, though the pilot has to pay a lot more attention to how she controls the plane.

What’s important to remember, though, is that pilots are heavily drilled in the procedures and techniques for making emergency landings. Very few emergency landings result in a crash.

Emergencies in the Air

Emergencies in the Air

In This Chapter

V Flying emergencies: big headlines, rare occurrences

V Off-airport and unscheduled landings

► When the engine stops running

► Ice on the wings

V Thunderstorms, microbursts, and high winds ^ Air rage—on the rise

► The Payne Stewart decompression accident

Headlines seem to trumpet some sort of airplane emergency once a week, from the minor crack-up of a small plane to a passenger jet forced to make a landing because of smoke in the cockpit.

In fact, serious aviation emergencies that endanger lives in the air or on the ground are amazingly rare. When compared to the millions of miles people travel by air every year, and the thousands of flights that take place every day, aviation emergencies are very scarce.

The Rare Emergency

Don’t take this the wrong way, but pilots are a strange breed. Every once in a while, they like a good old-fashioned emergency.

Подпись: Turbulence Most in-flight emergencies have very specific procedures that should be folio wed to provide the best margin of safety. Anything we discuss in this chapter, or in the rest of this book for that matter, is meant as general information. It isn't meant to take the place of an instructor's advice or any manufacturer's procedures. . . —_—— ■

Pilots train for years in handling emergencies, but almost never get to put that knowledge to the test. It’s a lot like soldiers who, after training for war, are perversely curious about trying out their skills in battle.

That’s not to say pilots like danger, but they do spend a good deal of their training time practicing how to respond to it. Airlines train their pilots using simulators so realistic that they feel almost exactly like an actual airplane—right down to the feeling of the landing gear rolling over seams in the concrete. In fact, after a few moments, everyone inside the simulator forgets they’re actually in a two-story-high cockpit mounted on a set of hydraulic pistons that tilt and jostle to simulate the motions of flight.

Подпись: Plane Talk Until the late 1960s and early 1970s, airlines trained their pilots In emergency procedures by flying in actual jetliners, with no passengers aboard. Later, simulators became good enough and cheap enough, and jet fuel expensive enough, to make simulator training the best, and safest, way to tram.

No matter what happens during an actual flight, it’s very unlikely that things could ever get as bad as the multiple catastrophes that a sadistic simulator instructor can inflict. I know of one airline simulator training session in which one of two engines on the plane failed, all airports nearby where closed due to heavy fog, a passenger suffered a heart attack, and a fire broke out in the storage well where the landing gear was hidden away during flight—all at the same time!

Learning from the Past

Simulator instructors use their knowledge of real-life emergencies to get pilots ready for everything. For example, in July 1989, a United Airlines DC-10 piloted by

Capt. Al Haynes lost its hydraulic system, meaning that Haynes found himself flying a jetliner he couldn’t steer. The tail engine on the three-engine DC-10 he was flying had suddenly blown apart, something that wouldn’t have been terribly dangerous considering the plane had two other engines. But when it disintegrated, the engine happened to destroy the airplane’s hydraulic system, leaving the pilots no way to move the ailerons, elevators, and rudder.

Capt. Haynes, with help from Dennis Fitch, an off-duty United Airlines pilot on his way home, managed to bring the jetliner down to a runway at the Sioux City, Iowa, airport, before the plane cart-wheeled and exploded into flames. The expert piloting of Haynes and Fitch saved the lives of 184 of the 296 people on board the plane.

In this case, Capt. Haynes and his crew had never practiced that specific emergency in the simulator, partly because the scenario they encountered was thought to be impossible to create in flight. Still, the discipline and skill pilots learn in simulators prepare flight crews to respond to any emergency with a cool head and practiced hand.

Emergencies in the Air

Plane Talk

One of the advantages of using computerized emulators is that instructors can program a simulator to reproduce the conditions that have led to a real-life tragedy. This allows new pilots to benefit from the painful lessons of fatal accidents, and if simulator pilots don’t learn the lessons the first time, they can practice them again and again. One of the most common in-flight emergencies that pilots now practice in simulators is the "Dallas microburst,’ the weather-related disaster that led to the deaths of 136 people on Delta Aidines Flight 191 at Dallas in 1985. Now, pilots are routinely trained to deal with the exact conditions that doomed Flight 191, and thanks to repeated simulator training, they I get it tight

Small-airplane pilots also make use of simulated training, but not to the same degree of sophistication the airlines do. That’s because really good simulators cost tens of millions of dollars. Also, the cost of operating a small plane is relatively low, meaning that pilots and instructors can afford to practice emergency maneuvers in the actual airplane.

Fear of Flying

While pilots confront the physical effects of flying, passengers are often more concerned with the emotional ones. A phobia of flying can immobilize passengers and even keep them from traveling by air.

There are no simple solutions to treating a fear of flying. Many of the most frightening aspects of flying stem from not knowing how the airplane is controlled, combined with nervousness about being high up in the air.

Some of the sensations of flight cause discomfort. The sensation of being pressed back into your seat during takeoff, the steep tilting of the nose upward for the climb, the unfamiliar sounds of the landing gear and wing flaps being retracted or extended, the rolling of turbulence, the “elevator” sensations of growing lighter or heavier as the airplane climbs or descends during flight—any or all may cause uncomfortable sensations that lead to fear.

In “nervous flyers,” even the slightest noise, vibration, or strange sensation can become magnified to a

frightening degree. Cures, or at least treatments, for the fear of flying usually start with a greater understanding of how airplanes fly and how pilots operate them.

Подпись: The Least You Need to Know ► Eighty percent of the air in the atmosphere is crammed into the lowest 18,000 feet ^ The gravity's pressure affects how much oxygen makes its way into the bloodstream. ► By any name, hypoxia could mean "lights out"l V The simplest airsickness cure for beginning pilots is to take it slow. ► Nervous flyers usually benefit from a better understanding of how planes and pilots function.

Though simple assurances will probably not calm the fears of every jittery flyer, problems in the air, whether caused by passengers, pilots, or with the airplane itself are, in fact, very rare. In the next chapter, we’ll look at what to do when an emergency in the air does occur.

It’s not Easy being Green

Airsickness is one of the most common, and most hated, of all flight-related maladies. Many who’ve flown on an airliner or a small plane know the feeling: light­headedness followed by an increase in salivation, sweating and clammy skin, a ghostly pallor, and finally nausea and vomiting. Often, an attack of airsickness brings on a fit of sleepiness that can last for hours.

Airsickness is only one form of motion sickness that includes seasickness, carsickness, and trainsickness. I suppose you could even include “carnival sickness”

as another form, because of the feeling, maybe amplified by a stomach full of cotton candy and hot dogs, caused by riding on amusement-park rides.

Airsickness is caused by swinging, turning, rocking, and up-and-down motions. Of all these motions, the worst culprit often is the fishtailing of the plane caused by turbulence or a pilot with heavy feet on the rudder pedals.

Подпись: Passengers can thank airline engineers for a device called a 'yaw damper.' Yaw dampers were created to prevent dangerous “Dutch rolls' that cause airliners with swept-back wings to roll wildly back and forth. Fortunately for passengers, yaw dampers have the side benefit of reducing at least some of the sickening motion caused by turbulence.

Plane Talk

Experienced pilots don’t usually have much trouble with airsickness. But for student pilots, airsickness can stand in the way of a hobby, and even a career. With an attentive instructor and some ingenuity, many students are able to overcome this problem.

It’s not Easy being Green


Here’s a disturbing thought: Some of the pilots flying the jet­liners you’ve flown could have been suffering from airsickness during the flight. A 1987 study by the International Federation of the Airline Pilots Association found that 29 percent of pilots couldn’t complete a flight because of airsickness. Fortu­nately, airline flight crews always consist of two or three pilots.

For a student pilot, a good flight instructor can mean the difference between a quick immunity for airsickness and a slow, painful cure. Smart flight instructors treat the first sign of airsickness by stopping the lesson and landing at the closest available airport. A short break from flying and a walk in the fresh air are often enough to beat back an attack of the “colly-wobbles.”

After a few short flights, with breaks if necessary, most student pilots can develop a pretty good tolerance of airsickness. That’s because the hypersensitivity to motion, which is typically brought on by nervousness about the new experience of flying, gradually eases. Once a beginning pilot feels comfortable in the air, it takes a lot of airplane motion to make her airsick.

Of course, passengers have the option of taking any number of over-the-counter antiairsickness

medicines. Most of them are pretty effective, though they have some side effects. Pilots can’t risk the side effects, which include drowsiness and sluggish reactions.

For pilots or student pilots who sometimes look green around the gills, there are a few folk remedies. Some sufferers swear by the stomach-steadying effects of ginger, either in form of ginger candy or ginger pills; others say ginger ale has the same effect. For the believer in alternative cures, there’s acupressure. According to some, pressure applied about an inch below the wrist joint, on the same side of the wrist as the pinky finger, will cure a case of airsickness after about a minute.

The simplest solution could be watching your diet. Before flying, pilots or passengers who suffer from airsickness should stay away from high-salt foods like chips, as well as pork, beef, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. Also, don’t eat for at least three hours before a flight, and eat small, carbohydrate-rich meals within 24 hours before the flight. Many pilots also bring along a small, energy-filled snack to eat during the flight.

It’s not Easy being Green

On Course

According to some estimates, as many as one person in six suffers from a fear of flying that ranges from jitters to a fear so powerful that the mere thought of flying causes trembling.

It’s not Easy being Green

One way to calm anxieties over flying is to meet the captain and co-pilot of the flight Pilots are sensitive to the fears of passen­gers, and usually are glad to chat for a few minutes. Even if they don’t say anything that directly addresses the fear of flying, their natural self-confidence comes through, and often that’s enough to calm a jittery flyer’s fears.