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Authors: Patrick Smith

Cockpit Confidential

BOOK: Cockpit Confidential
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Copyright © 2013 by Patrick Smith
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

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Author's Notes and Acknowledgments


Introduction: The Painter's Brush


1. Plane Truth: Things about Wings and Why Knots


Airfoiled: how huge airplanes stay aloft • But isn't it more complicated? • On speed: what the hell is a knot? • A primer on parts • What are those upturned wingtips for? • What are those canoe-shaped pods under the wings? • Can a jetliner perform aerobatics? • How does a jet engine work? • What's a turboprop? • What is that hole under the tail? • Do planes run their engines at the gate? • How much does a jetliner cost? • Boeing v. Airbus: which is better and safer? • Which planes will get me there fastest? • Which have the longest range? • How much does a jetliner weigh? • When it's “too hot to fly” • Contrails • Air travel and the environment


The Airplane in Art, Music, and Film


2. Elements of Unease: Turbulence, Windshear, Weather, and Worry


High Art: History, Hype, and the World's Biggest Planes


What Plane Is That? An Airfleets Primer


Turbulence: everything you need to know • Wake turbulence • What's that trail of mist coming from the wing? • What is windshear? • Engine stalls • Can we glide to a landing? • Pressurization: facts and fallacies • Regional jets: are they safe? • How much fuel is on board? • Why and when do pilots jettison fuel? • Lightning: facts and fallacies • Oh my god, there's duct tape on my plane • Air traffic: how close is too close? • When metal meets feather • Icing and deicing • The truth about toilet water • Broken parts and maintenance protocols • Preflight inspections • Geriatric jets


Revere Reverie: A Hometown Memoir


3. What Goes Up…: Takeoffs, Landings, and the Mysterious Between


What's the Matter with Airports?


Preflight preparations • Why do planes take off into the wind? • Why do we bounce, bump, and jig during climb? • Engine failure on takeoff • The climbout cutback • How fast are we going at takeoff and touchdown? • Runway numbers • Challenging airports • Aborted landings: everything you need to know • Instrument approaches • Why do some pilots land more smoothly than others? • Reverse thrust • What's that sudden roar all about? • The nuts and bolts of weather delays • Four bad ideas to fix congestion • An ATC primer: how pilots communicate en route • Navigation basics: BLOWN, BAABY, and LAYED • Why do flights to Europe travel so far north? • FUK, DAM, HEL: those mysterious airport codes


4. Flying for a Living: The Awe and Odd of a Life Aloft


The Right Seat: Propellers, Polyester, and Other Memories


Captain, copilot, first officer? Who are these people? • Becoming an airline pilot • Training: everything you need to know • Pilot salaries, truth and fiction • The seniority system blues • Pilot shortage: the real story • A pilot's schedule, and the cross-country shuffle • This is your captain sleeping: the menace of fatigue • Regional pilots: are they safe? • Women and minorities • The truth about cockpit automation • How passengers can (or can't) gauge a pilot's skill • Captain Sully: heroics or hype? • Pilots and alcohol • Those fancy watches and mysterious black bags • Cockpit cuisine: first class fare and ramen noodles • Flying naked? • Globetrodden: pilot perks, and the yin and yang of travel


Accommodations: On the Road with Patrick Smith


5. En Route: Life in the Cabin


North Latitude: Fear and Loathing on the High Atlantic


Window shades, tray tables, and seat backs • The barking dog: strange noises on the Airbus • The facts and fallacies of cabin air • Do pilots tinker with the oxygen levels? • Overheated cabins and those hot, stuffy takeoffs • Opening an exit during flight • Why are the windows so small? • The glorious glory • Dogs and cats below • The story on cell phones and PEDs • Those damn dings • Listening in on cockpit chatter • Public address madness and the babble of the safety briefing • Class struggles: first, business, economy, and beyond • The trials and tribulations of boarding, and how to make it better • A round of applause


Looking Out: Memorable Views from Aloft


6. …Must Come Down: Disasters, Mishaps, and Fatuous Flights of Fancy


Terminal Madness: What Is Airport Security?


The Ten Deadliest Air Disasters of All Time


Terrorism perspective: the golden age of air crimes • Fear and reason: encouragement for nervous flyers • What pilots dread • Emergencies, real and imagined • Where airlines fear to tread • The ten worst disasters of all time • Foreign airline safety • The myth of the Immaculate Qantas • Budget carrier safety • Flight and punishment • Exploding tires and other nightmares • Could a nonpilot land a jetliner? • Parachutes for passengers? • The truth about midair collisions • Runway congestion: cause for alarm? • The legacy of September 11 • The folly of a barricaded cockpit • Shoulder-fired missiles • “Soft walls” and other hooey • Conspiracy Nation


We Gaan
: The Horror and Absurdity of History's Worst Plane Crash


7. The Airlines We Love to Hate


The Yin and Yang of Airline Identity


Service woes: taking on the world • Why are airlines such terrible communicators? • Which are the largest carriers? • The upside for consumers: routes and fares • Airfares à la carte: the pros and cons of unbundling • Tarmac delays and the “Passenger Bill of Rights” • The magic mojo of Southwest Airlines • Which are the oldest airlines? • Code-share confusion • Where do flight numbers come from? • Red-eye rationale: why do flights to Europe always go at night? • Size matters: big planes on short hauls • The longest hauls • The poetry of airliner names


How to Speak Airline: A Glossary for Travelers


About the Author



When I began this book, it was intended to be little more than a mildly refreshed edition of its predecessor,
Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know about Air Travel
, published in 2004. The more I revised, the more it grew and changed. Eventually it became an entirely new book. The framework is similar and I've retained some of the chapter names, but the material within is vastly different. Virtually everything has been updated or expanded in some way, and about 70 percent of the material is entirely new.

The contents are drawn from more than three hundred articles and columns originally written for the online magazine
, beginning in 2002 under the brand
Ask the Pilot
. The Q&A sequences were provided mostly by my readers at
, to whom I am deeply grateful for their enthusiasm and encouragement over the years.

I have done my best to ensure long-term timeliness of the information, but please bear in mind that commercial aviation is a landscape—or skyscape if you'd rather—of ever-shifting facts and statistics. Airlines come and go; planes are bought and sold; routes are swapped and dropped. Now and then comes a tragedy.

Special thanks to my agent, Sophia Seidner, and to Shana Drehs at Sourcebooks. Logistical, proofreading, and creative support was provided by Julia Petipas. Acoustic accompaniments by Bob Mould, Grant Hart, Greg Norton, and the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy.

All thoughts and opinions herein are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of any airline, agency, or entity.

For further information and additional reading, please visit

Patrick Smith
Somerville, Massachusetts


BOOK: Cockpit Confidential
9.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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