Ok, so to be honest I got inspired to write this after watching the last half-hour of Snakes on a Plane. This very same fatal/ heart-pounding situation occurs in movies so often that it should probably be banned. Yet, on the other hand it is a very real scenario where you only have a few precious seconds to spare.
So imagine the following, your on an eastbound flight to fictionesia, a beautiful tropical island off the coast of nowhere. But surprise, your pilot and co-pilot are actually heartless, international con men on the run from Interpol, among others. Together they grab their parachutes and leap from the plane leaving behind a single note on the pilot's seat.....IOU: One Safe Flight. Suddenly, the plane begins turn tail up and plummet to the ground. As best as I possibly can, I have outlined crucial tips and pointers for surviving this perilous situation.
Warning: Airplane operation should always be handled by trained professionals i.e. pilots, flight instructors. Do not try to operate airplanes or FAA grade avionics with proper permission and or instruction from the aforementioned authorities.
What You Need
- An airplane
- The ability to pull (possibly very hard)
- Cojones de bronce
So now you're in the pilot's seat and trying to save the lives of you and your fellow passengers. Your all heading faster and faster toward the ground but you have to act fast. Why? Simply put, the faster your plane plummets, the harder it will be to pull up and out of the downward fall. You see, the high speeds that are attained in free fall put a lot of stress on the plane's frame. The stress can come in the form of G-forces acting on the plane as you try to pull your way up and out of the fall. For a detailed explanation of what G-forces are and how they affect the aircraft's structure and the human body, check out the video below (courtesy of the U.S. Airforce).
Another phenomena that you have to watch out for, cause it causes all sorts of weird happenings, is flutter which you can read up on here. Moral of the story so far, be very sure to pull out of a free fall as carefully as possible (without risking your life of course).
Now let's look at the type of plane you are flying. If you find yourself flying a smaller, mechanically controlled plane, then this is where that upper body strength may come in handy. A mechanically controlled plane will definitely be harder to control than most professional aircraft which are either hydro-mechanical or fly-by-wire. As in a mechanical set-up the driving mechanism is directly touching the planes controlling surfaces...and thus depend on the pilot's strength.
Now in hydro-mechanical or fly-by-wire planes, you have more leeway and a few more options. Excessive pressure need not applied to these controls. In most cases regular back-pressure on the controls should suffice (unless something really goes wrong). This will probably give you the spare time and flexibility to adjust the fine motor controls of the plane that can really get you out of a bind (e.g the elevator trim). As a small side note, some pilots suggest that during the start of a straight free fall, speeding up the plane may actually help you. How, you ask? It can help you achieve the necessary lift to more easily pull yourself out of a dive. Of course, to properly pull off this maneuver certain conditions have to be met. For example, your plane must still have power, you must have enough distance from the ground, you have to make sure your planes isn't in any awkward positions (i.e. spinning out of control).
Some Comforting Thoughts
- Modern planes are increasingly being equipped with self-correction mechanisms. These devices can sense the beginnings of a irregular/dangerous maneuver and begin self-correction.
- The vast majority of planes are designed to be naturally inclined to fly straight and stay in the air.
- The electronic and hydro-mechanically controlled planes respond almost automatically to the touch of the controls.