A big fear for many of you appears to be the possibility of engine failure. Admittedly it does sound scary, but there are a few reasons why you do not need to worry about it;
- Jet engine reliability is outstanding. The engines are built to such a high standard, and with such a degree of accuracy, that the majority of commercial airline pilots will never experience engine failure – apart from the hours of practise in the simulator.
- An aircraft can fly perfectly safely with just one engine, maintaining speed, and altitude with no problems.
- Even if ALL engines fail (highly improbable), the aircraft will be able to glide for approx 30 minutes and cover a distance of 120 miles. All the controls will continue to work as they would with full engine power
Once again, it’s important that I let you know that I’m not undermining your fear of flying. Approximately 1 in 5 of the population suffer, and I’m by no means underestimating your concerns.
It is my personal belief – and that of many psychologists – that knowledge is power. Understanding the facts can empower you to take control of your fear, and stop letting it control you.
So, how does the aircraft still fly with only one, or zero engines?
The systems that fly the aircraft (i.e. flaps, and other control surfaces) and the electrical systems (radar, controls), and even the landing gear all have back-up systems in place. Electrical power is not lost during engine failure, and therefore the pilots can still control the descent and general direction of the aircraft.
Modern aircraft are more advanced than ever. Airbus, shortly followed by Boeing, began using the new fly-by-wire system in their 320 series. In basic terms, the fly-by-wire system uses computers and electronic signals to control the aircraft – rather than heavy, obtrusive and outdated pulleys, cranks and wires.
When the pilot now moves his control stick, an electrical signal is sent through a wire that communicates with flaps and other hydraulic systems and ‘moves’ them as required.
Do not fear though, the computer system is not your average home computer. It’s amazingly advanced and has many, many backup systems in reserve. This extensive computer system can help manage the pilots’ workload and also gives a warning when it believes the pilot has made a mistake! Most pilots will say this is a bad thing though – as they do not enjoy being told what to do by a computer!!
I will cover the advantages of the FBW system in more depth in the near future.