Does the autopilot do all the work these days and is it dangerous to fly in a thunderstorm? Two pilots deal with the five biggest myths about flying.
Frankfurt – There are all sorts of myths about flying. How dangerous are turbulence and thunderstorms for aircraft and do pilots even still fly or do they oversleep the flight?
Airplane pilot Zoya Agarwal works for Air India and is very familiar with the many theories and myths. Together with co-pilot Rajalakshmi Eshwar, she reveals to Science Insider what is behind it.
Flight myth 1: can lightning crash the plane?
How dangerous is a flight in a thunderstorm? Many will have asked themselves this question before, especially if they have already been affected. A flight through thunderstorms is no picnic. Copilot Eshwar finds reassuring words. “Nowadays the airplanes are designed in such a way that they can deal with lightning strikes”.
Devices that can divert the lightning, so-called “dischargers”, are attached to modern aircraft. The pilot and co-pilot agree: The statement that lightning can actually be dangerous for aircraft these days is a myth.
Flight myths 2 and 3: does the autopilot fly alone and does the pilot sleep during the flight?
What do pilots actually do during the flight? Many passengers seem to believe that the autopilot is now doing all the work on its own. But that is by no means true, emphasize the pilots. “We constantly tell the autopilot what to do,” explains the co-pilot. How fast the aircraft should fly, at what altitude, all of this must be determined by the pilots. The autopilot does some of the work for them, but they have to keep an eye on the situation at all times.
That’s why the third myth is complete nonsense, both think. With the exception of extreme long-haul flights that involve working in shifts, “we don’t have this option,” both of them unanimously declare.
Flight myth 4: does the air make you sick?
Feeling unwell during the flight makes some wonder whether this could be due to the air in the plane. But Zoya also has a clear answer here: “The air in the cabin doesn’t make anyone sick”. Passenger planes are usually equipped with efficient air filters. These also ensure that the air in the cabin is permanently circulated and exchanged with fresh air. Symptoms such as feeling unwell or dizzy, on the other hand, could have other reasons. Copilot Eshwar explains that this could be caused by altitude sickness or motion sickness.
Flight Myth 5: Can Turbulence Cause Airplane Crash?
Here, too, the pilots agree that an aircraft crashing due to turbulence is extremely unlikely. Often these would be triggered by a change in the air flow. Even if the direction or strength of the winds change abruptly, the aircraft may wobble. But that is not a cause for concern.
According to the two, major turbulence is already avoided by the pilots. They can easily be flown around with the help of surveillance systems. Smaller turbulences are usually unavoidable. Here the pilots simply recommend: Keep calm. Because the bumpy flight episode is usually over again after a few moments.
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