Not all that you hear is gospel truth. Capt. Lim Khoy Hing shares a few exaggerated tales about flying and explains what really took place.
I often get e-mails from passengers with amusing anecdotes to share. Sometimes, as with anyone recounting in-flight stories or, fishing tales for that matter, one may have to take them with a large pinch of salt.
One guest wrote to me about her mother’s ‘scary’ experience on a recent flight. Apparently, the plane faltered and she heard the engines go “Clunk-Clunk-Clunk”, which resulted in the plane diving “hundreds of metres” and with “people screaming, crying and praying!”
This does sound like a scary scenario but before you get unduly alarmed, I’d like to explain what really happened on this flight to put your mind at ease.
In the above situation, the plane had encountered very bad turbulence, as it was flying in the vicinity of a typhoon. Naturally, it was neither a comfortable nor pleasant experience. Nevertheless, turbulence is not to be feared, as long as one’s seat belt is securely fastened. When buckled up properly, flying during turbulence is not a safety issue but rather one of discomfort.
In turbulence, the plane is normally flying on autopilot. It pays to remember that during the cruise, you are moving at about 800 feet per second or around 540 miles per hour. To give you a better idea, that’s whizzing along three football fields of about 300 feet each (900 feet in total) in length, in one second. In other words, in every second, the jet moves across three Wembley Stadiums!
Let me explain. The air over the first three football fields is going down, the air over the next three football fields is going up. This is followed by the air going down for the third length. On a jet, you go up for just about one-third of a second. Then you are over the second field with the downward-moving air for about one-third of a second. Then you are over the third field and move up for one-third of a second.
So, there really isn’t much time to go up or down and the plane stays generally at its assigned altitude unless the autopilot is tripped off by very severe turbulence. This however, can be manually controlled and the captain can easily regain control.
So, the drop you feel is actually really minimal because you go from a ‘downward-moving’ air to ‘upward-moving’ air so quickly that neither ‘down going’ nor ‘up moving’ air has time to do much. You simply feel it as a jolt because you are hitting the bump incredibly fast.
Thus, the terror passengers experience is normally created by their imagination. They imagine falling hundreds of metres but in reality, the altimeter in the cockpit shows otherwise. Anyhow, there is no way a passenger would know how much the aircraft has dropped or ‘dived’ unless the plane is equipped with Air Show or video screens – none of which are available on Airbus A320.
The ‘clunking’ sound doesn’t indicate that the engine is faltering but rather that the pilot is reducing the speed of the plane, just like how you would slow down on approaching a bump on the road.
With this, hopefully the dramatic story of the clunking engines and diving plane has been rationally explained.