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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fear Of Flying

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Reasons to be reassured for those with a fear of
Andrew Clarke
Fear of flying, or flying phobia, is one of the more common fears, and recent events have only
made things worse. If you have a fear of flying, noises within the aircraft can trigger anxiety.
This article will help you understand what those noises are.
As with any machine, an aeroplane makes its own unique sounds. To the frequent flyer these
noises can become just part of the background, but to an infrequent traveller - especially one
concerned about flying - these can sometimes be plain frightening. We're going to explain
some of the common noises (and things that you may see) when flying on an airliner and
show that they need be no cause for alarm.
After the dispatcher, or airline agent, closes the door, the first thing that you might notice is
the pushback. The pushback should be brief, but you may hear or feel the tractor's engine as
the aircraft is pushed back onto the taxiway.
Normally, as the pushback starts, the engines will be started. It is usual for the air-
conditioning to the cabin to be stopped as the airflow is required to turn the engine's turbines.
When the engine start is complete the air-conditioning will begin again and the aeroplane will
begin its taxi to the runway. In my experience (especially at Heathrow) this is usually the
bumpiest part of the whole flight! It is at this time that the pilots will start their pre-takeoff
checks and you may feel and hear the brakes being applied a couple of times and see some
of the control surfaces on the wings (ailerons, spoilers and flaps) move up and/or down.
As the aeroplane lines up on the runway for takeoff you will hear and feel the engines as they
are advanced to takeoff power and the aircraft may jump forward gently as the brakes are
released. During the takeoff run you can sometimes hear a `bumping' noise like a car running
over cats-eyes on the road. That's exactly what it is as the nose-wheel goes over lights
illuminating the runway centreline.
Shortly after lift off the landing gear will be retracted. Landing gear doors will open and close
and the wheels will be stowed away. These are usually powered hydraulically and `clunks'
may be heard as the hydraulic pressure is applied to and removed from the system. Early in
the climb out the aircraft's nose could be lowered and the engine power reduced slightly to
reduce wear on the engines and comply with any local `noise abatement' rules. This will often
be followed by retraction of the flaps, which are used to increase lift during takeoff, and you
will hear the whirring of the motors as the flaps are tucked into the wings.
During the climb the engine note may fall and then rise several times as the aeroplane levels
off and then climbs again. This can be necessary to fit in with other traffic that may be arriving
or departing your airport or one nearby. This is quite common if you fly from any of the
London airports.
As the descent towards your destination is started the engine power is reduced and on some
aircraft types the contrast between the cruise and the descent engine noise can be quite
pronounced. At this time you will most likely start to feel the increase in cabin air pressure as
your ears `pop' At some stage in the descent you may see the spoilers deploy from the top
surface of the wings. These `spoil' some of the lift produced by the wings and create drag so
that the aeroplane can decelerate and descend quicker. Because of this drag there is usually
an increase in wind noise at this time.

Fear of Flying


At lower altitudes, as the speed decreases, the general wind noise will lower and you will
again notice the flaps as they are extended from the wings and the clunks and wind noise
from the lowering landing gear. The gear may make a louder clunk this time as the
undercarriage is locked into position.

Because of the lower air noise you may hear the engines as their speed is changed. In
contrast to the take off where we use a constant engine power, for landing we need to keep a
constant airspeed. Fine ­tuning of the engine power can be needed to account for the
different wind speeds at various altitudes and the drag caused by different flap positions.

How the landing feels can vary and depends on many factors. A reasonably firm landing is,
believe it or not, the `correct' technique for a large aeroplane and really is required if the
runway is short or wet. In these conditions we need to be on the ground as soon as possible
for maximum braking effectiveness. To help the brakes the spoilers will again deploy from the
top of the wings. The engine sound will initially decrease to idle speed, but then increase as
reverse thrust is applied. You may see the thrust reversers move into position at the rear of
the engine and this can be accompanied by higher noise and some rattling of the overhead

Different models of aircraft will obviously have slightly different sounds, maybe in a slightly
different order but this is generally how it happens on any aeroplane that you're likely to fly on
these days. The main thing is to relax and enjoy the flight - you can always ask the cabin
crew `what's that noise?' but they're so used to it, they'll probably say `what noise?'
Andrew Clarke is a captain with a major British airline and has over 7000 hours flying
experience on many different commercial airliners in Europe and beyond.


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