How Do Pilots Fly Planes?

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Flying a plane is always a challenging task. Pilots have to undergo a great deal of training before they can fly and operate an aircraft.

Pilots fly a plane using the dynamics of Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion. The pilot manually controls the engine power using a throttle. The pilot then pushes the throttle forward, driving greater force into the engines which move the aircraft forward.

Using the difference in air pressure between the upper and lower wing, the plane propels into the air.

How Do Planes Fly – Simple Explanation 

Knowing the complex mechanics of how planes fly may seem daunting. There are a lot of factors at work that makes flying possible.

However, four main dynamics tie everything together:

  • The concept of lift takes place, which pushes the aircraft upward. This primarily works by opposing the weight of the aircraft, which keeps it stable in the air.
  • The aerodynamic force of drag is pivotal during flight take-off and landing. It is the resistance felt during an aircraft’s motion through the air. It is especially important during the landing phase as it assists in quicker deceleration of the plane.
  • Weight is the force that naturally occurs due to the gravitational pull of the earth. As it is an opposing force, it determines how much fuel the aircraft will consume, and the maximum payload allowed during a flight.
  • Thrust is the primary force that moves the aircraft through the air. It acts as an opposing force to drag and helps balance the weight of the aircraft. The engines are responsible for generating the required amount of thrust.

Why Do Planes Fly So High?

The main reason planes fly so high is to maintain fuel efficiency. Aviation turbine fuel is extremely expensive. The higher the altitude, the less fuel the aircraft uses.

The air is thinner at higher altitudes. This in turn causes lesser drag, helping the aircraft maintain speed while using lesser fuel. However, flying too high also has a

drawback. The higher an aircraft goes, the higher the fuel consumption as the engines require more power to reach that height.

How Does A Plane Take Off?

Plane Takeoff

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Thrust from the engines moves the aircraft forward. A lift is created when the air starts flowing around the wing. The aircraft needs to reach a certain speed that creates the right amount of lift.

As enough lift creates around the wings, the pilot positions the nose of the aircraft upwards which propels the aircraft into the air. The engines maintain a sustained speed, which ensures that gravity does not pull the aircraft down.

How Does A Plane Turn Left And Right?

The turning of an aircraft is an extremely recognizable feeling in flying, felt by both the pilots and passengers. It is key that this aspect executes itself perfectly, keeping the turn of the aircraft perfectly balanced.

Maneuvering an aircraft left or right is the responsibility of the rudder, aileron, and elevator. The rudder is a part of the plane’s tailfin and is a moving part. It helps in maintaining coordination during a turn by keeping the nose of the aircraft pointed in the direction of the flight path. 

The ailerons are on the outer edges of the aircraft’s wing. From a passenger’s perspective, this is the most visual control surface of an aircraft. Using a control wheel, the ailerons work by raising and lowering the aircraft’s wings. This helps in changing the roll of the aircraft, towards the left or right. 

The elevator is a part of the tail of the aircraft and assists in raising or lowering the nose during an aircraft’s climb or descent.

How Does A Plane Land?

Landing a plane primarily starts with lowering the thrust (engine power) of the aircraft. Once clearance for landing by the air tower via radio call, the aircraft begins its descent. A sustained airspeed is to be maintained at all times during the landing sequence.

The landing gear is then deployed, and the nose of the aircraft is adjusted ensuring that it is facing the threshold of the runway. Power is reduced further as the aircraft continues to descend. 

The pilot also has to gauge the landing carefully, because there is always a chance of overshooting the runway and going off the tarmac.

Once on the runway, brakes are applied along with a reverse thrust of the engine, quickly reducing the speed of the aircraft. Additionally, flaps called spoilers are deployed which create drag and help bring the aircraft to a complete stop.

Do Pilots Manually Land The Plane?

During navigation, the aircraft is primarily in autopilot mode. For landing, however, pilots prefer a manual approach, as it is easier to control the aircraft versus using the autoland feature

Autolanding requires accurate and constant guidance from the ground and tower staff. The feature also requires extensive training for it to be used effectively. A pilot has complete control over the aircraft while landing manually and this is the most preferred method.

Autolanding is primarily used when the weather condition is poor, with zero visibility of the runway. It is ideal as the pilot cannot see anything, making manual landings risky.

How Many Pilots Fly A Plane?

All major commercial flights have a minimum requirement of two pilots, owing to the complex responsibilities of flying.

The main commander of the aircraft is called the captain and the co-pilot is known as the first officer. 

Do Both Pilots Fly The Plane?

Both pilots share important responsibilities when flying a plane. The captain, who sits on the left of the cockpit, is responsible for everything that happens on a flight. This includes all command decisions, managing the crew, and handling all major emergencies.

The first officer, who sits on the right, is equally trained as the captain and is responsible for assisting with flight operations.

The first officer assumes the role of a safety net and takes control of the aircraft in the absence of the captain or during an unforeseen emergency.

Does The Same Pilot Fly The Same Plane?

Pilots do not fly the same plane continuously. Each pilot is trained for a particular aircraft model and has authorization to only fly that particular variant.

This does not mean that pilots cannot fly the same plane at a later point, as their aircraft allocation is on a rotational basis.

FAQ Relating To How Pilots Fly Planes

Planes near sunset

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The most common questions about flying a plane revolve around flight operations and how pilots control the aircraft. The captain and first officer are highly trained and equipped to handle all emergencies.

Curiosity is also raised about how pilots spend their time during a flight.

Do Pilots Actually Fly The Plane?

Pilots fly the plane (manual control) when the aircraft is taking off or landing. There are many control parameters that need to be followed during both sequences.

During take-off, the pilot needs to control the angle and speed of the aircraft until it reaches a certain height. During landing, the rate and speed of descent need to be monitored and controlled until the aircraft safely comes to a stop.

Once the plane is airborne, autopilot mode is engaged. However, manual control of the aircraft is taken by the pilot in the event of poor weather and turbulence.

Do Pilots Fly Planes On Autopilot?

Pilots guide a plane manually during take-off and landing. The pilot then engages autopilot for the rest of the flight.

The route of the destination is uploaded into the aircraft’s software. Once autopilot engages, the aircraft follows this set route and follows all prescribed safety parameters

However, autopilot is not relied on entirely to take care of flight operations. The manual intervention takes place in the event of an emergency such as an immediate landing or bad weather.

Monitoring the aircraft’s cabin pressure is extremely important. In case there is a variation in cabin pressure, the pilot takes manual control and adjusts the flying altitude, accordingly.

Autopilot is also used to land a plane under difficult circumstances such as poor visibility on the runway. This takes place with the assistance of a safety parameter called the Instrument Landing System or ILS.

What Do Pilots Do When Flying A Plane?

Once the aircraft is in the air and at stable cruising speed, the pilot engages autopilot. During this time, pilots take care of several things which are crucial during a flight.

All instruments have to be actively monitored by both pilots which detail the amount of fuel left, cabin temperature, and pressure.

The outside air temperature is constantly checked while maintaining contact with the air control tower.

In the event of an emergency such as bad weather, the pilot needs to be ready to take control of the aircraft and ensure everyone’s safety. 

During long-haul flights, both pilots take a break, in turns.

Do Pilots Hand Fly?

Pilots usually hand-fly during the taxi, take-off, and landing sequences. Once the aircraft takes off and reaches a certain height, autopilot takes over and the pilot relinquishes the hand-fly controls.

Some pilots-hand fly for a longer period as a matter of personal preference before engaging autopilot. 

Before landing, the pilot disengages autopilot and takes over the hand-fly controls.

Pilots do this as they have to actively monitor the correct angle of descent and speed, ensuring a safe touchdown on the runway.

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