Here are a few surprising things about airplanes:

  • Rudders cause boats to turn, but an airplanes’ rudder is mostly to make the airplane more comfortable for the passengers and more efficientduring turns. The ailerons and, surprisingly, the elevator are what actually makes an airplane turn.
  • Pretty much the only kinds of airplanes that might have a rearview mirror would be a fighter or a glider tow plane. Most aircraft don’t have windows behind the pilot so rearview mirrors wouldn’t do any good anyway. There are some Cessna models that do, however.
  • The majority of piston driven General Aviation aircraft have engines with horizontally opposed cylinders. In other words, engines that more closely resemble the original Volkswagen “Bug” engines. It turns out that’s a benefit for aircraft because they are air (and oil) cooled, just like the Bug’s engine.
  • Only a very few production aircraft have radiators. Most aircraft engines are air and to a lesser extent oil cooled.
  • Most General Aviation aircraft are steered on the ground by the Rudder Pedals, not the yoke (steering wheel). Airliners are usually steered by a “tiller” operated by the Captain.
  • If a pilot wants to make an aircraft climb or descend he doesn’t have to pull back or push forward on the aircraft’s “elevator” control (“yoke” or “stick”). Instead simply adding or decreasing engine power has the same effect. But if the pilot used the yoke rather than just changing the engine power to initiate a climb or descent and wants to maintain the same airspeed or close to it, then the engine power must be adjusted as well.
  • All airplanes (with electrical systems) use the same “navigation/ identification lighting” paradigm as ships, with a red light on the left (port) and green on the right (starboard).
  • Airplane usually fly with landing or taxi lights even during the day. The reason? To make them visible to other aircraft.
  • Typically the concept of an airplane stalling bothers passengers more than it bothers pilots. By a long shot. Pilots are trained to both initiateand recover from stalls as part of their normal ongoing flight training.
  • If a single engine airplane’s engine stops the aircraft doesn’t fall out of the sky like you often see in the movies with the aircraft diving toward the ground the instant the engine stops. Instead it starts gliding with a glide ratio of typically 10:1 or better; often much better.
  • If one of a multiengine airplane’s engines stops the aircraft can almost always be flown reasonably normally to an airport and make a normallanding.
  • The higher the airport above sea level, the hotter the air temperature, and the heavier the aircraft’s take-off and landing weights, the longer the required runway will be for both taking off and landing.
  • It typically takes an airplane less runway to land than to take off.
  • Most aircraft can’t move backward on the ground without external help.
  • Airliner doors are almost impossible to open in flight.
  • When in flight a smaller general aviation aircraft’s doors may come ajar fairly easy, but opening them enough to actually get out is much more difficult.
  • In order for any airplane to go twice as fast requires eight times as much power and fuel consumption. Therefore, aircraft usually have greater range at slower airspeeds. Peter Wheeler added a Comment below regarding the difference between jet and piston aircraft. I learned something so you might want to read it too.
  • Every aircraft has a ceiling — the highest altitude it will climb to. For a given aircraft the ceiling can vary based upon the temperature, air pressure, and actual aircraft weight.
  • Most engines that aren’t supercharged or turbocharged start losing engine power as the aircraft climbs higher. That includes jet (turbine) engines. But even supercharged and turbocharged eventually start losing power as they climb.
  • Pilots don’t have to adjust for the curvature of the earth as they fly. They simply maintain an altitude according to the aircraft altimeter.
  • An aircraft’s normal Altimeter doesn’t indicate the aircraft’s height above the ground; it indicates the height above sea level.
  • Unlike a car’s speedometer, an aircraft’s Airspeed Indicator — a speedometer like instrument — doesn’t tell the pilot how fast the aircraft is going over the ground. It measure’s how fast it is going through the air. From an aerodynamic viewpoint, that’s more important to the pilot. Groundspeed is only important from a navigation (e.g. when do we get there?) standpoint.
  • Most aircraft have “Flaps.” those devices on the back of both wings. Most airliners and a majority of general aviation aircraft use them for take-off because setting “take-off flaps” increases lift and thus shortens the aircraft’s required take-off distance. Setting landing “flaps” provides more drag and shortens the landing distance.
  • Airplanes almost always land and take off INTO the wind; especially with winds stronger than a breeze. That’s because landing and taking off into the wind requires less runway than the converse.
  • Aerodynamically aircraft neither know or care about wind direction and speed; they operate within in the air mass independently of the ground.
  • If flying into a strong enough wind an aircraft can not only hover over a spot on the ground but can potentially travel (but not fly) backwards. This is similar to when a boat is traveling 5 MPH up a 10 MPH river that’s flowing in the opposite direction. The boat would actually be going backwards at 5 MPH. But from a physics standpoint, the aircraft won’t know that it’s not flying normally because from an aerodynamic standpoint it IS flying normally.
  • Properly done, an airplane can do a roll while a passenger is holding a cup of coffee and not spill a drop. In fact, done correctly, except for the view out the window, the passenger wouldn’t necessarily know the aircraft had been rolled.
  • With just a few key instruments — often referred to as the “six pack’ — almost any airplane can be flown by Instrument Rated (licensed) pilots in instrument conditions (in the clouds).
  • Helicopters aren’t exactly airplanes, but here’s something about helicopters. Pretty much everything a pilot does in a helicopter is the reverse of an airplane. For example, when a helicopter pilot wants to take-off and climb he pushes forward on the stick (Cyclic) which is opposite from an airplane.

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