Answers to three random questions about flying

Published on 20th September 2017 at 11:59

It won’t budge: Aircraft doors are secured with locks, pins and thousands of pounds of pressure.

If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re just as fascinated about flying as we are.

So, to get to the bottom of a few things, we asked a couple of our pilot mates to answer some of the more random questions they get from passengers.

What would happen if you tried to open the aircraft door inflight?

The short answer is that it wouldn’t budge. Think of an aircraft door like a plug. Pressure inside the cabin pushing on the door forms a very tight seal.  There’s also other locks and pins which keep the door in place and when combined with the pressure it’s impossible to open it when flying at 38,000 feet. But just to be clear, it’s illegal for passengers to interfere with these parts of the aircraft, so please don’t even try.


It’s wicky: Static wicks help discharge the energy of a lightning strike on an aircraft.

What are those things sticking off the aircraft wing?

Statistically, each aircraft is struck by lightning on average once a year. It’s a common occurrence that modern aircraft are designed to deal with. Next time you look out at the aircraft window, take a look at the wing. You can see small metal rods extending off the back of the wings. These are called static wicks and help the energy of the lightning leave the aircraft safely. An aircraft flying through a cloud can actually create static electricity, so the wicks also help dissipate that energy too. (You can watch an explanation from one of our pilots about aircraft and lightning here.)

Why do aircraft dump fuel?

Aircraft are usually a lot heavier when they take off than when they land, simply because of the amount of fuel they burn en-route. For a one hour flight, a 737 would use about three tonnes of fuel.

For a plane to land safely without damaging its landing gear or the runway, it must reach its MLW or maximum landing weight.  Flight planning makes sure that happens, but what if there was a need to divert? Let’s say the QF 11 from Sydney to LA is 90 minutes into its journey and the aircraft needs to return to base due to an engineering issue.

With enough fuel onboard to fly 14 hours to LA, the aircraft would be well over its maximum landing weight. So, air traffic control would direct the aircraft into an area of airspace to do giant laps or figure eights in the sky to not only jettison fuel but also burn fuel (simply by continuing to fly) to reduce the aircraft’s weight until it’s light enough to land.

Aircraft are usually asked to perform this flying at around 20,000 feet.  Studies by the US Air Force show that fuel which is jettisoned above 6000 feet vaporises. That said, the need to jettison fuel happens very rarely.

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