Is it safe for airplane wings to flex during takeoff? | News Coverage from USA

Is it safe for airplane wings to flex during takeoff?

Question: I rarely fly. I notice on takeoff, as the plane climbs, there’s a point where it sounds like the engine is shutting down and I get a sensation of the plane descending. Is that just my fear playing a trick on my mind or does that actually happen? Thank you!

– AC, Atlanta

Answer: No, the plane is not descending. Once the airplane is climbing and the landing gear is retracted, the thrust of the engines is reduced. This results in a decrease in engine noise. The rate of climb slows and as the flaps/slats are retracted there is a further reduction in climb rate for a few moments. All of this is normal.

More: Ask the Captain: All about airplane flaps and slats

Question: Why do jumbo jets ascend at a lower rate? It takes them much longer to get to the desired altitude.    

– Abson, Orange County, California

Answer: Large four-engine airplanes are slower to climb than two-engine airplanes due to the amount of excess thrust of two-engine airplanes. If a two-engine airplane experiences a loss of thrust in one engine (50% of the total thrust), it must still be able to climb and continue flight safely. A loss of thrust for a four-engine airplane only results in a 25% loss of thrust. The twin-engine plane has more excess thrust when all engines are operating and therefore climbs faster.  

Question: Is it normal and safe for airplane wings to flex during takeoff?

– Ruben Treko, Providence, Rhode Island

Answer: Yes, it is normal. That flexibility dissipates some load and helps smooth the ride. 

Question: On a recent flight, while barreling down the runway for maybe 15-20 seconds, brakes were applied, the plane made an abrupt turn onto a taxiway and takeoff was aborted. We spent about 10 minutes on the taxiway before the captain alerted us to the reason for the aborted takeoff, which was a “warning light” that came on during takeoff. This was the first aborted takeoff I have experienced, and most everyone I have spoken with has never experienced one. Are aborted takeoffs common? 

– James Matthews, Vermont

Answer: I would not say they are common, but they do occur. Over my career I have had to abort several takeoffs, but over nearly five decades that is not very many. 

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.


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