Top 10 Most Misunderstood Airplane Facts

Amazing Airplane Facts to Share

Our Top 10 Airplane facts that people still believe. But are in fact false.

We work diligently to ensure we deliver factual and accurate information on the most pertinent topics in the world of commercial aviation…

But we have noticed a couple of anomalies. More than a couple in fact. So, this might become a two-parter.

Flights of Fancy

Here at WT Towers, we skip daintily across our story-telling pond. From lily to pad to lily pad. And we like to quote others and to use stats and studies and so we monitor the market. But every now and then the fire breathing shark of untruth explodes from beneath our pond. Dragging us to the depths of hell.

What are these horrors I hear you demand? They are factual errors about airplanes. That are slightly annoying. 

Some of you – ok, lots of you – (how can I put this delicately) …have some beliefs. Beliefs of things to be true that are in fact not. Things like saying “Aircrafts” believing it to be the plural of “Aircraft”. This is untrue. 

So, stop saying it. Or that Airport Security Screeners can detect when a passenger has been smoking weed (or other substances). Not true. But don’t try to bring it with you!. 

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    Airport Ramp

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    Or even that a single person – mid-flight – could walk over to a plane cabin door and wrench it open using that long silver, inviting, handle. Ejecting him and his fellow passengers out into the dark void. Or worse, over Florida. Not true either. Physically impossible in fact. 

    So, sit back, grab a glass of Mr. Reynolds Aviator Gin (don’t send us anything Ryan! we prefer Whiskey) and see if any of these “facts” were something that you heretofore believed were true. 

    Plane Truth

    So, wonder no more. And should any of these airplane facts come up again, we want you to do something for us. We want you to slam your fist on the bar top and demand attention from all present. For you are going to smarten them up. Good and proper. And impersonate Ryan Reynolds while you do it. 

    So let’s go. Airplane Fact Number one…

    “The Wright brothers invented Airplane flight”

    They did not. There were several other pioneers who had discovered the Bernoulli effect on the curved wing, which resulted in “lighter than air” aircraft. And lift. But what Orville and Wilbur did was add power and control into the flying package.  Two engines and a control mechanism borrowed from their bicycle business resulted in the first sustained – manned – flight in aviation industry history. Subtle but important.

    “Airplanes fly high to stay out of the weather”

    No. Nor because we want to. Or due to jet engine noise. Or even winds (even though the Jetstream does assist in west-to-east traffic). The reason we operate between that 30,000–40,000 ft “sweet spot” is because this is the optimum operating altitude for fuel efficiency on modern commercial turbofan engine. Any lower, we are less fuel efficient.

    Any higher, and burnable oxygen levels decrease proportionately. In fact, most everything we design in modern aviation is related to the efficiency and optimum operating envelope of the engines. Why? because aviation fuel makes up 50% of the total operating costs. Slightly more for long-haul flights.


    "Older Aircraft are more likely to crash”

    Statistically untrue. Older aircraft do succumb to wear and tear, corrosion and other environmental degradations but systems of protection and serviceability control around these issues ensure they don’t cause catastrophic events.

    Human error is still the greatest threat to aviation, and this can affect all aircraft types at any time. Old or new. We did a recent study about the 10 most recent accidents involving the two most produced aircraft in aviation history, the B737 and the A320. 

    "Aircraft cannot Reverse"

    In truth, aircraft don’t have any “gears” as such. But yes, they can reverse. It’s not done as a rule, and there’s good reasons for it. But modern aircraft do have engine thrust reversers, used mostly in the landing roll-out to help with braking. These same reversers can be engaged at the boarding gate and the aircraft will go backwards.

    This does happen on rare occasions when push-back tugs break down, or if pushback is unavailable. Or if there’s an emergency. But otherwise, it’s noisy and needs a lot of ground staff to ensure nothing goes wrong. And the insurance companies won’t like it. 

    "Aircraft don't have steering wheels”

    They sure do! On a panel just left (or right) of the pilot’s main controller yoke, is the Nose-Wheel Steering control. It’s small, about a quarter the size of a car wheel and it controls the nose wheels during taxi. It’s tricky to use and takes experience to master, which is why the captain is the only person allowed to do it during normal operations.

    “Cabin air is recycled. It’s gross”

    No Sir, it’s not. Cabin air is continually replaced (never recycled) with fresh air from outside the aircraft. Every 3 minutes the entire air capacity in the cabin is replaced. It’s ducted in just over your head and vented out via panels in the floor at your feet. Your air is your own.

    It’s not arriving from that coughing lady in seat 2G. Also its filtered using HEPA technology, which makes it purer than the air piped into the surgical theatres at Cedars Sinai.


    “Aviation and Aircraft are terrible, causing the world's CO2 problems”

    From 100% of the world’s CO2 emissions, aviation is approximately 3%. Yes, that’s 3% too much. But we are working hard to get that down to zero by 2050. Yes, zero. But here’s another fact. A B747 contributes less CO2 than your Gas or diesel car. Wait, What? …How?

    Well if you compare both vehicles in terms of passenger per mile per gallon travel, a B747 full of passengers is far more efficient than you and me sat alone in our multi-ton Ford F150’s or Camrys on the motorway.  

    “Aircraft are painted white so they can be spotted in the air by other aircraft”

    Nope. Aircraft are painted white because we want to reflect away harmful radiation from sunlight. You see, up there at cruising altitude you are getting an awful lot more radiation than you would get on the ground.

    Don’t worry, the amount of time you spend up there (even in your lifetime) won’t result in any detrimental effect, but that’s where an aircraft, the pilots and flight attendants spend most of their lives. So, we design a lot of structures and systems to protect both plane and occupants. 

    “Where is the new Concorde?"

    We have an entire article on aircraft speed. Much like the altitude argument, the same is true for the speed argument. The optimum speed for a jet aircraft is .82Mach (or 820mph). Any faster and as you approach the sound barrier, the additional energy required grows exponentially. And thus, more fuel is needed, and your costs shoot up. And what the Travel Industry has learned over the years is that passengers only want one thing…

    Cheap fares. And they don’t want to pay for things like nicer inflight meals, flight entertainment or a reduction in time. At least not yet. But things change fast, and there are some interesting projects on the horizon. But disruption in the commercial aviation game is risky.  


    “Delta (or) Ryanair are a terrible Airlines”

    We call this the “history bias” or sometimes “Your local bar-buddy reflections bias”. We too thought Delta was the worst airline in the world. We were wrong. And by wrong, we mean Delta is doing the best job of the top 10 Airlines at being a company, an employer and a good operator of aircraft. You can read our piece, where we had a little looksee at the boys, girls, and gender-neutral folks from Atlanta. Who are doing an outstanding job. 

    We investigated how they fared on metrics that we valued. Metrics like airplane emissions, managing their money and good overall aviation culture. And we were dumbfounded. As for Ryanair (and all Low-Cost-Carriers for that matter) without these airlines you and I would still be paying thousands of dollars to fly from Teterboro to La Guardia. Never mind across the Pacific.

    Ryanair and Southwest pulled back the curtain on the airline industry and showed us the wizard. Or lack thereof. 

    So that’s our Airplane Facts so far. Some of you aviation enthusiasts or commercial airport professionals can leave some comments below to add to the lists. We’re sure there are many more. 

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