What’s Interesting About Aviation?

I’ve been asked a lot of times “why do [I] like airplanes?” Often times, my first reaction is to correct the person asking the question by telling them that “I’m interested in aviation (and not airplanes).” This may be unnecessary – in fact it probably is – but I think that simply saying that I “like airplanes” is vastly oversimplified, and makes me sound like a child easily fascinated by moving objects. Of course,  I’m never going to be able to control others’ perceptions of my interest, and I am a person who over-analyzes things in general, so I definitely understand the perception, even if I disagree with its label. Regardless, it certainly is an interesting question, and one whose answer I have contemplated time and time again over the years.

The honest answer is that there is no one particular area that catches my interest. With that in mind, I’ve divided it up into a variety of different areas. Some are able to be explained in a few sentences. Some require a number of different bullets. Some I can’t even begin to fully explain. Either way, I thought it would be interesting to share some insight into just what it is that I find intriguing.

The “Inner-Five-Year-Old” Factor

Face it, flying is something that (most of us) don’t do every day. As such, it’s understandable that one might be fascinated with the fundamentals of being in the air, even if one has flown on a particular aircraft or particular route before.

  1. Sitting inside a plane and hearing the fans go quiet, followed by the gradual grind of a jet engine starting.
  2. The noise of engines spooling up from idle to takeoff thrust (TOGA), whether sitting in front of or behind the fan.
  3. Hearing the thuds of the wheels going down the runway as a plane embarks on its takeoff roll.
  4. Feeling gravity “push down” as the plane takes off.
  5. The feeling of empowerment as the plane climbs out of the airport with takeoff power set.
  6. Visual differences between parts of the world that are moving quickly (flying over highway interchanges) versus standing still (flying over farms).
  7. Hearing (and feeling) the landing gear “bump” as it comes out prior to landing.
  8. Flying low over urban areas, getting slower and slower, while coming into land.
  9. Seeing the airport’s landscape suddenly appear under the plane.
  10. The moment of touchdown, signaling the completion of the time in air.
The Competitive Factor

Even considering the incredible breakthroughs that we as humans have had over time, flying is arguably up there with the best – it’s the fastest mode of transportation we’ve devised thus far. And I don’t care how strong you think you are – a jet engine is more powerful. Moreover, as I explained in my report chronicling my first Boeing 747 trip, I find the idea of an airport having transatlantic service as, in a way, a successful competitive triumph. Airlines don’t just take a plunge on starting long-haul service anywhere, and “making it” as far as being able to sustain those flights is certainly notable.

Admiration by the General Population

I enjoy seeing people who aren’t airplane fanatics (e.g. the general population) take a moment out of their day to look up at a jumbo and comment on its sheer power – power that can not be matched by any human. Of course, we humans are not designed to generate the same power as a GE90, and thus a shouldn’t be expected to compare ourselves to the power of a jet engine, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be impressed by them.

Unique (and Unknown) Narrations

One of the more interesting things that I’ve found is when I’m flying home late in the day – particularly after sunset. Passing over a variety of metropolitan areas, all one can really see is the extensive range of lights – most of which are houses – present on the ground. As cliche as it sounds, each light has its own story. One may be the home of a young family, with parents trying to get their kids ready for school tomorrow. Another may be the home of a retired couple relaxing in their living room, watching the evening news. Yet another might be a studio apartment, with a single urban dweller hanging out on Facebook. I often find myself wondering what the story is behind each of those lights – and though I’ll never know, it is interesting to imagine.

Another in-flight observation that I find fascinating happens mostly during descent. Following takeoff, an aircraft gains altitude and speed at extremely high rates, so it’s difficult to observe much in depth. Leading up to landing, however, the aircraft is – generally speaking – much “lower and slower,” giving passengers an excellent view of cars driving up and down roads and highways. Much like the houses, each car has its own story. A row of cars may feature someone heading home from work, another person venturing to the grocery store, and yet another person heading out to meet a friend. There’s absolutely no way to know the true story behind all of these cars, and perhaps that’s what makes it intriguing.

The Unparalleled Complexities
  1. Think about how many steps/logistics/etc. go into a single flight. (I don’t have an actual number, since it is variable, but just imagine.)
  2. Know that approximately 100,000 commercial flights take off and land every day around the world.
  3. With those two pieces of knowledge, think about how every flight – each with its own set of steps, requirements, etc. – has to fit into the massive global puzzle comprised of approximately 100,000 flights per day.
  4. Realize how safe commercial aviation is, despite the sheer amount of logistics that every flight crew (on their own flight) and every controller (in keeping airports and air spaces efficient and safe) must deal with. Pretty impressive.
The Factor of the Unknown

Even though I’ve gained a significant amount of aviation knowledge over the years, there is still a significant amount of information I don’t know or experiences I haven’t had. This, ultimately, is what keeps me interested.