Please excuse the short, personal, introduction that follows. If I write it now, there’s a very good chance that it will never happen again. Promise.
My first time as passenger on a commercial airline flight was in 1988, I think, when my folks decided we should take a winter vacation from our home in the Twin Cities to sunny Disney World. I remember looking out and down out the window as we taxied to the far end of the runway, and then hearing the engine’s turbines accelerate, and then feeling the plane’s acceleration push me deeper into my chair, and then the rumble of the landing gear quiet a bit as first the front wheels lifted off the ground and then a moment later the rear landing gear did the same. The experience was a bit miraculous to me, at the time. And I enjoyed it.
This enjoyment extended many years until I started watching too much news. Catastrophes of landing failures and in-flight explosions shook my faith in the technology and its custodians (the pilots, their crew, the maintenance staff, and so forth). Then there was the role commercial flight played in the Twin Towers disaster of 2001. If anything put me in the “hate to fly” camp, it was that. And I stayed there for a while, avoiding national conferences that required flying to get there, and that sort of thing.
By 2003, certain commitments I’d made and opportunities that had become available required me to start flying to distant conferences and meeting. Preparations for such trips were marked by brooding fears that kept me up too late at night as I tried to fall asleep. All those fears would vanish when I stepped into the airport and engaged in the rituals of checking-in, passing through security, and waiting at the gate. They’d be revived with the click the seat-belt buckle makes when engaged, but I stilled the fears with a review of the statistics that said flying is safer than driving, that thousands of American planes traverse their assigned routes each day without incident, and so forth. Then the plane gets us from the taxiway to the runway where I begin to fear an exploding turbine sending its blade into the cabin and through my body. When that doesn’t happen, and when the plane is barreling down the runway, I remind myself that landing in the more dangerous maneuver - taking off is easy.
But how can planes even take off into the air? How can such a heavy vessel be shaped in such a way that forward velocity transfers to upward velocity (or lift) in a way that is stable and predictable? These are the thoughts that always cross my mind when I fly. These days, I’m more mellow about the prospect of flying, but there’s always part of me that goes through a ‘what if this is the last time my family sees me’ ritual. This isn’t something that I dread. In fact, it’s something that has lead me to appreciate life and my family and all the Good Things that are part of my life, before and after I fly.
For these reasons, the technology of flight is something that intrigues me. I’ve heard that a plane can pretty much fly itself from take-off to landing. A piloting crew is only necessary for the extraordinary incidents like those that lead to the Miracle on the Hudson. So when I read this article today, I nodded in appreciation and thought it worth sharing. The article affirms that much of the work of commercial flights is done by computer, and it relies on a competent, rested, and able flight crew. To those people I raise my glass and say ‘thank you’ for the way you’ve faithfully negotiated the flying technology that’s delivered me from point A to point B and back.
Here’s the story on the importance of a piloting crew’s ability to type: [here].