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Can A Plane Still Fly With Only One Engine?

To some people, the thought of an engine failure on an airplane is terrifying enough to never allow them to travel by air. We have all seen videos from passengers of aircraft when a jet engine has malfunctioned or a propellor has stopped turning while in flight. The question is though can a plane still fly on one good engine?

Airplanes with two or more engines are designed to fly with one engine failed. Depending on when the engine fails during the flight pilots may return to their departure airport, divert to a nearby airport, or continue to their destination. Depending on the malfunction an engine may be restarted.

It is possible for twin-engined aircraft to operate perfectly well with one engine, both landing and taking off without difficulty. A loss of an engine during flight is a major event but it is easily dealt with by the pilots who are trained to deal with this scenario on a regular basis.

Regardless of the severity of the incident, pilots are taught to abide by basic aviation rules. Depending on the engine’s status, pilots know how to respond when an engine fails, so an engine outage should very rarely be considered a serious issue. 

To find out just how aircraft can fly with only one engine remaining please read on…

How Do Pilots Deal With Engine Failures?

Pilots are trained to deal with engine failures on a regular basis at all stages of flight. A single pilot will run a mental checklist to secure or restart a failed engine, whereas a multi-pilot crew will run through a checklist to secure the engine, trim the aircraft and assess all options available.

The second part to this question all depends on the type of airplane the pilot/s is flying.

Single Engine Airplanes:

A Cessna 152 – Source: MilborneOne

If the engine fails on an airplane with only that engine the pilot has two options:

  1. Try restarting the engine if altitude permits and the source of the failure is possibly known
  2. Make an emergency landing

Unfortunately, the pilot only has these two choices and sometimes an emergency landing is the only option, and even then the area upon which they must try and land the aircraft could be very unfavorable. This is why many single-engine airplanes are shown crashing in videos after an engine failure.

If the engine fails while at cruise with lots of altitude the pilot may be able to restart or glide to a suitable landing site whether that be a runway, open field, or even a highway.

Losing the engine in a single-engine airplane is never a good situation.

Twin-Engine Airplanes:

Boeing 777

Airplanes with two engines stand a much better chance of being able to stay airborne and allow the pilot/s to assess the severity of the situation and return to land or continue the flight.

When a pilot loses an engine in a twin-engined aircraft they will be able to adjust the flight controls to offset all the thrust coming now from just one side of the airplane. Depending on when the engine failure occurs will dictate what the pilots do and the options available to them. (More on this later).

Tri or Quad-Engine Airplanes:

McDonell-Douglas DC-10

Just like the pilots of a twin-engine aircraft, the pilots of tri & quad-engine airplanes have far more options and the likelihood of them reaching their original destination are far greater due to the fact they have more engines available.

However, issues arise when pilots of these aircraft begin to lose a second or third engine as this dramatically reduces the performance of the aircraft and may mean the pilots should have begun an emergency landing or are now required to.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* This Is Why Pilots Reduce Thrust After Takeoff?
* Planes Landing Sideways – Why Not just Land Straight?

What Happens if Pilots Lose an Engine on Takeoff, Cruise, or Landing?

No matter how many engines an airplane has lost, the working engines alter the balance of how the aircraft flies. The pilot/s must react using control inputs to maintain the aircraft in a safe configuration, be that during a takeoff roll or airborne, any further issues are dealt with after.

To deal with engine failures, the airplane manufacturer creates a step-by-step checklist on how to deal with an engine failure depending on when it happens, how to try and restart it, or how to secure it and trim the aircraft to fly as efficiently as possible.

Two Boeing 737 Full-Motion Flight Simulators at Flybe’s Training Center in the UK

When pilots are new to the aircraft type the emergency procedures take up the majority of the training time and again, when pilots come back for their annual or bi-annual proficiency checks. The use of Computer-based simulators are the training tool of choice and is why most major airlines will have their own simulator training facility to ensure their pilots can be exposed to the worst possible case scenarios while in the safety of a simulator.

Practice makes perfect and that is why I am personally a big fan of simulator training!

What Happens if an Engine Fails During Takeoff?

During the preflight readiness of the aircraft the pilot/s will asses the weight of the aircraft with fuel, cargo and passengers, atmospheric conditions, and runway length to calculate a speed at which a takeoff can be safely rejected. This is known as the Takeoff Decision Speed (V1).

Should an engine failure occur before the aircraft reaches the V1 speed the pilot/s will reject the takeoff by reducing power to all engines and placing them into reverse thrust to help decelerate, then apply the air and wheels brakes at their maximum capacity.

It is important for the aircraft to stop before the end of the runway!

In the event that velocity V1 is exceeded, the pilot who is not manipulating the flight controls will announce “V1” to the flying pilot. When the speed is over V1, the flying pilot will know they must continue and take off, regardless of what happens to the engines otherwise, they could possibly run out of runway! 

In this case, they take off and climb to assess their situation.

Each Pilot has Specific Tasks to do During All Phases of Flight.

At any speed over V1, modern airplanes are certified to take off and climb with one engine inoperative and because of this pilots will establish a steady climb, adjust the flight controls to ensure the airplane flies in the correct aerodynamic configuration, and will advise air traffic control of their situation who will standby to provide any needed assistance.

It is common that large, commercial airliners have higher permitted takeoff weights compared to their allowable landing weight. This is due to the fact that they have usually burned off the majority of their fuel before landing at their destination. Most airliners’ landing gear cannot absorb the impact of the aircraft with full fuel tanks.

In this scenario, pilots must either dump fuel or divert to an airport by which time they have burned enough fuel to be under their maximum landing weight. Each incident requires collaboration and careful consideration to ensure the passengers, aircraft, and persons on the ground remain safe at all times.

What Happens if an Engine Fails During Cruise Flight?

If an engine fails in cruise and no damage has occurred pilots may elect to try and restart it. If it fails to restart pilots will secure the engine and plan for a diversion to an airport that is within the airplane’s certified ETOPS (Extended Range Twin-Engine Operations Performance Standard).

Just like an emergency, the decision to what the pilots do afterwards depends on the initial occurance. If the engine flamed out for no reason, the pilots may elect to conduct a restart if all the indications look OK.

If the engine started to lose oil pressure, the pilots may elect to shut the engine down to prevent damage being caused.

If the engine had a catastrophic malfunction and created damage to the cowls, wing or fuselage the pilots may have to make a rapid descent and land at the nearest airport to which the airplane can safely land.

No matter the situation, the pilots are trained regularly to deal with the worst case scenarios – To many people that would seem like losing an engine when over the middle of the ocean.

To assist pilots that face this situation the airplanes are certified to a set ETOPS standard. ETOPS refers to the length of time that a two-engined aircraft can fly without one of its engines.

Source: Vladsinger

When on a long flight far from suitable airports aircraft without an ETOPS certification must follow the blue line above. This makes them stay within an hours flight time from their emergency alternate airports duing cruise.

With new aircraft and engine technology, airframes are certified to fly longer distances away from alternate airports making their routes shorter and faster. Most modern commercial airliners are certified with ETOPS:

There are many well-known aircraft out there with ETOPS ratings.

For example:

  • The Boeing 737 has ETOPS-180 (180 minutes of single-engine endurance)
  • The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has ETOPS-330
  • The Airbus A350-900 has even more extended endurance ratings of 370 minutes.

On a single engine, Airbus claims the A350 can travel 4,630 kilometers in over six hours, an impressive distance for a single engine. Nevertheless, losing an engine has consequences. A loss of 50% of an aircraft’s power will affect its altitude, resulting in the aircraft having to revert to an intermediate altitude for the remainder of the flight which causes the remaining engine to be less efficient and burn more fuel.

What Happens if an Engine Fails During Landing?

If an engine failure occurs during landing the pilot’s main priority is to maintain a safe flight configuration of the airplane. If the airplane has just started the descent pilots will secure the failed engine. If on short final they will leave the engine until landed.

Trimming is, of course, crucial. During low altitudes, even the slightest mistake can cause the aircraft to deviate out of control. This is why it is crucial to adjust the remaining engine’s power in accordance with the required speed.

Overpowered engines may cause the airplane to veer abruptly, or underpowered engines may cause it to stall (uncontrolled loss of altitude). Before every landing, possible engine failure scenarios are discussed in detail well before to ensure each pilot knows what action to undertake should an engine failure occur.

If an engine has failed during the cruise part of the flight the pilots will use the appropriate emergency checklist pilots check what needs to be done and how the aircraft needs to be configured for the emergency landing of the aircraft.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* Why Are Airplane Engines So Expensive?
* Can a Plane Land Itself?

What Do Runway Light Colors Mean?

Airports at night time can be quite beautiful and mesmerizing to view as a passenger whether from the air or on the ground. But, they are equally as daunting and complex to navigate as a new pilot. The vast array of colorful lights serves a very particular purpose and is actually a source of vital visual information for the pilots to ensure they stay on the right track.

Runway light colors are used to indicate to pilots where they are currently or are approaching when maneuvering around an airport. Steady illuminated blue and green are used on taxiways, and white, yellow and red for runways and prohibited areas. Approach lighting systems help pilots line up when landing.

On larger, international airports lighting is mandatory and defined by standards set forth by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and then implemented by the regional aviation authority for that country (FAA, EASA, etc.). Having standardized airport lighting across the globe dramatically reduces pilot mistakes, especially when flying into unfamiliar, international airports.

These light systems and colors are an important part of an airport’s infrastructure particularly if the airport is expected to be operational at night or during bad weather that reduces pilot visibility like heavy rain, fog, mist, and dust.

In today’s article, we’ll have a look at what the different colors on an airport signify and how they help pilots in low visibility or nighttime operations. Also, we’ll look at some additional colored visual aids pilots use in day-to-day operations.

Light Colors Found on an Airport:

According to the FAA, each light color on the runway or taxiway needs to provide particular information to the pilot when maneuvering around the airport, when taking off or when landing.
The most common colors found on major airport runways and taxiways include:

  • Green
  • Blue
  • White
  • Red
  • Yellow

For airports that do not have instrument approaches attached to them or are small municipal airports the amount and color of lights they have can be none, to very basic. The more lights and colors the airport has, the busier it is and the higher the landing capabilities are for poor weather operations.

We will have a look at each of these lights in detail below:

Taxiway Lights – Blue, Green & Yellow

To safely get an airplane from the terminal gate to the runway or vice-versa the taxiways are lit with green and blue lights. This helps pilots instantly differentiate them from runways when on approach to land in poor visibility.

As you can see in the header image for this article it is very obvious to see which is a taxiway and which is a runway once you have read through our explanations. There have been instances when aircraft have landed or almost landed on larger taxiways when the visibility has been incredibly low from thick fog.

Blue Lights

Blue lights signify taxiway edge lighting. These lights are omni-directional that delineate the edges of taxiways at night or during poor weather and ensure that the pilot does not inadvertently go off the taxiway. They are spaced 50 to 200 feet apart depending on the size of the airport.

Heavy Airplanes Sink Instantly When Leaving a Taxiway!

Taxing off a taxiway at night or in poor visibility at a major airport can create a logistical nightmare for ground traffic controllers while the airplane is being recovered from sinking into the ground. The blue lights act as a warning to pilots they are about to leave the pavement.

Green Lights

Green colored lights are used to mark the taxiway centerline that pilots follow when transiting a taxiway.

Taxiway centerline lights are omni-directional green lights and they are spaced 50 or 100 feet apart to match the blue taxiway edge lights, but on corners or curved areas, they are positioned closer together to help keep the pilots on center.

The taxiway center lights are illuminated at a lower intensity just so pilots on the ground can see them, but pilots on approach to land have a harder time seeing them and not mistaking the taxiway for a runway.

Yellow Lights

To prevent pilots from accidentally taxiing onto a runway each runway entry point has a ‘Hold Short’ line. Pilots are not allowed to cross this line from a taxiway to a runway without the direct permission of the tower controller.

Depending on the size of the airport the Hold Short line may consist of two alternating flashing yellow lights placed on either side of the taxiway at the hold short line, or may also consist of a line of solid yellow lights across the taxiway, or a line of alternating flashing yellow lights across the taxiway.

This is by far one of the most important sets of lights on the airport surface and yellow is designed to be highly contrasting to the green and blue lights of the taxiway and the white lights of the runway around it.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* Can Airplanes Land In Fog? A Pilot Tells All!
* How Big are Aircraft Runways?

Runway Lights – White, Yellow, Green & Red

Runway lights are a combination of white, yellow, red, and green. White is the predominant color to allow pilots to easily distinguish a runway from a taxiway and ensure they land on the right part, especially in very poor visibility.

Runways contain the following lights:

  1. Runway Edges – White & Yellow
  2. Runway Centerline – White & Red
  3. Touchdown Zone – White
  4. Runway Ends – Green & Red

Runway Edge Lights

Runway edge lights are omni-directional, steady-burning white colored lights that provide pilots with visual cues regarding where are the edges of the runway.

Runway edge lights are spaced 200 feet apart and they have variable intensity settings such as Low-Intensity Runway Lights (LIRL), Medium-Intensity Runway Lights (MIRL), and High-Intensity Runway Lights (HIRL).

The light intensity is controlled by the air traffic controller or by the pilot using a Pilot-Controlled Lighting System (PCLS).

If you would like to find out more about the PCLS please check out this article:

Can Pilots Turn On Runway Lights From Their Aircraft?

On instrument approach runways, the edge lights change color to a steady yellow in the last 2000 feet or half the runway length, whichever is lesser, to alert the pilots that the runway is ending. This is known as the Caution Zone.

This is a very effective way to discreetly indicate to the pilots how much runway is left if they are dealing with a landing emergency or they landed a long way down the runway.

The yellow lights can only be seen in the direction of landing. To an airplane approaching from the other way all they see are steady-burning white runway edge lights shown above.

Runway Centerline Lights

Runway centerline lights are steady-burning white colored lights spaced at 50 foot intervals along the centerline of the runway.

On an instrument runway, the white lights are installed until the last 3,000 feet of the runway, after which the white lights start alternating with red for the last 2,000 feet of the runway, and the last 1,000 feet of the runway have red centerline lights.

Again, this is a subtle way to let pilots know how much runway is remaining.

In addition, the runway centerline lights are usually offset by a maximum of two feet to either the left or right side of the runway centreline paint to prevent the nosewheel of airplanes running over them causing a bumping sound and placing undue stress on the tires and landing gear structure.

Touchdown Zone Lights

The touchdown zone lighting (TDZL) on an instrument approach runway consists of two rows of transverse white lights placed symmetrically across the runway centerline.

The purpose of these lights is to help the pilots with the landing flare during touchdown in inclement weather conditions.

They can start from 100 feet beyond the runway threshold and extend to 3,000 feet or to the midpoint, whichever is less.

Runway End Lights

To ensure pilots are lining up with the BEGINNING of the runway while on approach to land the runway is equipped with red and green lights across the thresholds.

A row of green lights across the front edge of the runway (The Threshold) shows the start of the runway and a row of red lights across the far end of the runway denotes the end of the runway.

Approach & Glide Slope Lighting System Colors

For airports that operate at night, they will be equipped with approach and glide slope lighting systems to help visually guide the pilot down the approach path for the runway. Each runway will have an approach lighting system but the level of lighting complexity increases with the landing limitations for that runway.

For runways that allow aircraft to land in the poorest of visibility conditions, they will have the highest complexity of approach lighting systems, whereas small, municipal airports may have just a basic approach lighting system and /or visual slope indicator.

The two systems are broken up into:

  1. Visual Slope Indicators
  2. Approach Lighting Systems

1. Visual Slope Indicator Colors

This is exactly what it sounds like. It is a series of lights that visually show the pilot if they are on the correct approach angle (known as glide path) to the runway. Most runways have a 3° approach slope that is free of obstacles for the pilots to funnel down to the touchdown zone on the runway.

These visual slope indicators will show the pilot if they are on the 3° glide slope, or above it, or below it. They are very handy to ensure the pilots approach the runway within the designated obstacle-free safe zone.

There are two types of Visual Slope Indicator:

  • VASI – Visual Approach Slope Indicator
  • PAPI – Precision Approach Path Indicator


The VASI uses two light bars placed on the left side of the runway. To stay on the correct 3° glide slope the pilot needs to stay seeing Red over White. If the pilot does not descend quick enough and goes above the recommended glide slope they will begin to see the top light bar also go white.

If the pilot descends too fast and drops below the recommended glide slope they will begin to see both light bars show red.

Below Glide Slope
On Glide Slope
Above Glide Slope

When learning to fly, a simple Memory Rhyme is taught:

White, White = Fly All Night
Red Over White = You’re Alright
Red, Red = You’re Dead

When lined up correctly on the VASI it will ensure obstacle clearance within +/-10° on either side of the extended runway centerline out to 4 miles from the runway threshold. At night VASI lights are visible out to 20nm and 3-5nm during the day.

Tri-Color VASI:

Tri-Color VASIs are a common sight at heliports and smaller municipal airports. They work by projecting 3 light colors from a single transmitter allowing them to be installed in a smaller location.

When on the correct glide slope the pilot will see green, when above slope they see yellow, and below they see red.

Because the light emanates from a single transmitter the light projection can also be directed out horizontally at any angle from the transmitter that obstacle clearance allows.

This makes them a perfect visual slope indicators for rooftop helipads, or downtown heliports for example where safe routes in and out of the helipad were surveyed.


PAPI is short for Precision Approach Path Indicator. It consists of a single row of four lights usually located on the left side of the runway, or on both sides at major airports that are prone to heavy fog. They are visible from 20 miles during the night and 5 miles during the day and like the VASIs, provide vertical guidance to the pilots while on approach.

The PAPI’s individual bulbs change color between red or white depending on the aircraft’s position relative to the 3° glide path:

  • If the aircraft is too high, the PAPI’s will display all White
  • If the aircraft is slightly too high, the PAPI’s will display all 3 White and 1 Red
  • If the aircraft is On glide slope, the PAPI’s will display all 2 White and 2 Red
  • If the aircraft is slightly too low, the PAPI’s will display all 1 White and 3 Red
  • If the aircraft is too low, the PAPI’s will display all Red
High Above
Glide Slope
Slightly Above
Glide Slope
Glide Slope
Slightly Below
Glide Slope
Glide Slope

Pilots use the same ‘White, White, Fly All Night/Red, Red You’re Dead’ rhyme for flying the PAPIs too. The best part of the PAPIs is they give the pilot a little more precision while on approach and this is why you will find these installed by every major runway around the world.

2. Approach Lighting System Colors

All airports that are used by aircraft at night will have some form of approach lighting system to help the pilots stay on the centerline while using the PAPI or VASI to maintain their descent path. The busier and more capable instrument runways will have the more complex approach lighting systems like the ALSF-1 or ALSF-2, while smaller municipal airports will be more likely to have the MALSR or ODALS.

You will most likely to have seen the structures for each light crossing over roads and areas outside of the airport perimeter. This is because these lighting systems can fan out to as much as 3,000 feet from the end of the runway.



High-Intensity Approach Lighting system with Sequenced Flashers

Used on the runways with the lowest landing visibility minimums. This complex set of white and red lights stretches out to 3,000 feet in front of the runway threshold. As the aircraft crosses over the first full runway width row of white lights this indicates the pilot is roughly 2,000 feet or 1/3 mile from touchdown.

By following the red sets of lights on either side of the approach lighting center lights the pilots will know they are on track and lined up horizontally with the touchdown zone of the runway. On approaches blanketed in thick fog, the pilots may not see these red lights until several seconds before touchdown.


Approach Lighting system with Sequenced Flashers

By far the most common approach lighting system used around the world at airports that contain runways with a non-precision instrument approach procedure.

When on glide path the pilot should be flying directly down the center using the ‘Line Tracing’ strobe lights (Triangles) and upon crossing the white row of lights known as the ‘Roll Bar’ they should also be roughly 100 feet above the ground and 2,000 feet or 1/3 mile from touchdown.


Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights

A common site at many older international airports. This approach lighting system used to be the benchmark until technology evolved allowing for airplanes to land in much worse visibility conditions.

Consisting of just an array of steady burning white lights and a sequence of white strobe lights designating the runway centerline, this is by far one of the simplest systems out there.

Stretching out to 2,400 feet from the start of the runway, this lets pilots know they should be roughly 100 feet above touching down when crossing the horizontal row of 15 steady-burning white lights.


Omni-Directional Approach Lighting System

When flying into small unmanned and municipal airports this is by far the most common approach lighting system you will see. Like the MASLR, it too uses just white lights but consists of just flashing/strobing lights.

The two lights on the corners of the threshold flash as a pair and the row of white centerline line lights flash in sequence toward the runway. When lined up for approach on the runways extended centerline it is very easy to stay on target with the system.

This lighting system is common with the PCLS (Pilot Controlled Lighting System) mentioned above.

Airport Beacons – White, Yellow, Green & Red 

Airport beacons are also called Rotating Beacons or Aeronautical Beacons and their primary purpose is to identify the type of airport and its location to a pilot in the distance. It is mounted on a tower or at some heightened place so that it is prominent from every direction.

The Airport Beacon & its Obstruction Lights at Portland-Hillsboro Airport, Oregon (KHIO)

As a pilot flying at night, an airport can become lost in the vast sea of city lights, especially if the pilot is flying under visual conditions (VFR) and is on the opposite side of the city. The rotating beacon is also a high-intensity light so it helps to stand out.

When looking for the airport at night I will hone in on the rough location of the airport then look for the brightest, slow-flashing light. The color of that light then tells me if I’m looking at the correct airport and not a military air base or similar.

The lights of an airport beacon inform the pilot about the type of airport.

Light ColorType of Airport
Alternating White and GreenLighted Civilian airport
Alternating White and YellowLighted Water airport
Double White Flashes followed by a GreenLighted Military airport
Alternating Green, White, and Yellow  Lighted Heliport

In addition to rotating beacons are obstruction lights. Any structure that is over 150 feet (45m) tall and within 1.8 miles (3000m) of a runway must be lit with some form of obstacle light beacon. Most are a steady-burning, omni-directional red lights attached to buildings, towers, antennas, and structures within close proximity to the airport.

Tower Cranes with their Red Obstruction Beacons

As obstructions get taller and larger, multiple sets of lights may be required up the sides of the obstruction with the addition on flashing red or white strobe lights, especially when taller than 200 feet (60m).

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* Finding the Right Runway: How Do Pilots Know Where To Land?
* How Do Pilots See At Night? Everything You Want To Know!

How Does a Helicopter Change Speed?

We have all heard a helicopter flying overhead and when you look up some seem to be rocketing through the sky, some can be flying slowly and some not moving at all. With an aircraft capable of such a variety of speeds how do pilots select and control the speed they wish to fly at in a helicopter?

Helicopter pilots change the speed of the helicopter by applying forward or aft cyclic to tilt its main rotor disk. This increases or decreases lateral thrust but also makes the helicopter climb or descend. Pilots cancel out the altitude change using the collective to maintain altitude as airspeed changes.

When learning to fly, the mastering of balancing all the flight controls takes time, but once mastered helicopter pilots can select and maintain any airspeed they wish with ease. To find out how pilots do this please read on…

What Controls the Speed of a Helicopter?

To control the speed of the helicopter the pilot has to primarily use the Cyclic with their right hand and the Collective in their left hand:

The speed of the helicopter is controlled by how much lateral thrust the main rotor disk is applying to the air around it. By pushing the Cyclic in a forward direction the main rotor disk tilts down towards the front creating a horizontal thrust vector.

More Tilt = More Thrust Vector

The more the main rotor disk tilts, the faster the helicopter moves.

Learn More
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* How Does Wind Affect a Helicopter? Pilot Tells All!
* Backward Take off’s – Why Do Helicopters Do Them?

A Helicopter Main Rotor Disk

The cyclic controls the direction in which the main rotor disk tilts. It does this by changing the pitch of each main rotor blade during its orbit. To tilt the disk forward, the pilot pushes the Cyclic forward. This adjusts the pitch angle of each main rotor blade to be maximum at the rear and minimum at the front.

This causes each blade to rise when at the rear and descend when rotating round to the front. This is how the disk tilts. We call it a disk because when the main rotor system is turning the blades make it look like a disk.

Now that we know how the pilot changes speed on the most basic level we have to talk about the other things that happen any time the pilot moves the Cyclic.

As seen, the Cyclic is used to vary the airspeed of a helicopter, but to effectively change the airspeed, three components come into play:

  • Rotor Disk Tilt
  • Altitude
  • Trim

How Do Helicopters Accelerate?

For a helicopter to accelerate, some of the upward lift has to be transformed into horizontal thrust (force that moves the helicopter fuselage horizontally). To achieve this, the pilot smoothly moves the Cyclic control forward using their right hand and maintains altitude with the Collective.

Rotor Disk Tilt

This tilts the rotor disc downwards at the front of the helicopter and generates forward thrust causing the helicopter to begin accelerating. However, this also causes the helicopter to begin losing altitude.

It does this because some of the power used to maintain the hover or its last flight condition is now being directed into the thrust vector instead of it all going into the lift vector. This causes the helicopter to descend. The further the Cylic is moved, the more power is being moved from lift to thrust, and the more the helicopter descends.


To stop the helicopter descending, the pilot raises the Collective slightly using their left hand. By raising the Collective, it increases the pitch angle of ALL the main rotor blades at the same time (Collectively) causing them to create more lift. This increase in lift stops the helicopter descending by adding more into the lift vector.

But, whenever the pitch angle of the main rotor blades increases, so does the amount of drag they create. If nothing is done to overcome this drag it will cause the RPM of the main rotor system to slow down. This is not good as it is the RPM of the main rotor system that is acting as a wing and keeping the helicopter airborne!

As the pilot raises the Collective control with their left hand a mechanical linkage or digital signal tells the engine to increase power. This increase in power drives the main rotor system harder to overcome the increased drag being created by each main rotor blade and maintains the RPM of the main rotor system.

Now this is all good, but we have a further situation now that the power has changed – Torque. Because of Newton’s Third Law – ‘For Every Action there is an Equal and Opposite Reaction‘, this causes the heading of the helicopter to change too!


As the engine and main transmission turn, they drive the main rotor blades in one direction, but the torques pushes the fuselage of the helicopter in the opposite direction. To prevent the helicopter from spinning around its main mast it uses a tail rotor system to provide a horizontal thrust in the opposite direction.

When torque and tail rotor thrust balance, the helicopter maintains its heading.

Helicopter Tail Rotor Thrust

When the pilot raisies the Collective and the engine increases power, the torque on the fuselage also increases. To keep the helicopter pointing straight ahead the pilot must adjust the amount of thrust coming out of the tail rotor system to balance the torque. They do this by using foot pedals:

By pressing on the right foot pedal it moves the nose of the helicopter to the right, left foot pedal and the helicopter rotates left.

To Summarize:

To accelerate, the pilot:

  • Pushes Forward on the Cyclic
  • Raises Collective
  • Maintains Heading with Pedals

When done in unison and in the correct amounts the helicopter will smoothly accelerate, maintain its altitude, and maintain its heading – Learning this coordination is what takes time when learning to fly!

I Hope That Makes Sense! If not, take a look at this video where I talk you through it while in flight;

How Do Helicopters Decelerate?

To achieve deceleration, the pilot places slight rearward pressure on the Cyclic to tilt the rotor disc downward at the rear of the helicopter and generate rearward thrust. This rearward thrust acts against the forward momentum of the helicopter if it’s in flight, and begins to slow it down.

For deceleration, it’s basically the opposite of acceleration.

The pilot places aft pressure on the Cyclic to tilt the disk aft. When this happens however, the helicopter will begin to ‘Balloon Up’ and gain altitude as the up-tilted disk now acts like a sail. To overcome this the pilot lowers the Collective to maintain altitude.

Because the Collective has been lowered, it reduces engine power which reduces torque, so the pilot now has to remove the pedal input they placed in during acceleration or forward cruise flight so stay pointing straight ahead.

Again, all the control inputs have to be done in unison and in the correct amounts so the helicopter will smoothly decelerate, maintain its altitude, and maintain its heading.

Once the helicopter slows enough the pilot will center the Cyclic and bring the helicopter into a hover or slower forward airspeed. If the pilot continued to hold the deceleration, the helicopter would slow down, stop, then begin traveling in reverse.

How do Helicopter Pilots Select a Speed?

The operating speed of a helicopter is just the same as in your vehicle. The pilot accelerates or decelerates to achieve the desired speed and then configures the helicopter for the desired speed.

To achieve the desired speed the pilot maintains the Cyclic control in the position that gives them the desired airspeed (Say 60 knots for example). Then they adjust the Collective until they are neither climbing nor descending.

Helicopter pilots have several speeds they will generally use depending on the operation they are conducting:

Hover Taxi:

This is used to get from Point A to Point B which is only a short distance away. If it’s too far to climb and descend helicopter pilots will conduct a hover taxi. Typically when moving around a large airport for example.

A typical hover taxi will be around 40knots (46mph) and under 100 feet above the ground.


Commonly used by Police and News helicopters when overhead a scene. A single point on the ground is of interest so the pilot will fly an orbit around this scene to keep it in view for their observer crew/camera operator.

A Typical Reconnaissance Orbit

Utility pilots will also use an orbit to assess a landing site that is in a field, clearing, highway etc for objects and ensure it is clear and safe to land.

A typical orbit speed for most helicopters is 60knots (70mph)

Max Continuous Power Cruise:

Helicopter manufacturers will issue a power limit recommended by the engine manufacturer. This is a limit based on how hot the engine gets or how much power is being delivered to the transmission. Pilots can fly around all day long under this limit – Hence: Max Continuous.

Remember how I told you the Collective increases engine power, this is what the pilot uses to select a max continuous cruise speed. They will raise the Collective until they reach the power limit on their engine gauge/s. They then apply forward pressure to the Cyclic to speed up the helicopter to a speed where they no longer climb, nor descend.

An experienced pilot will raise the Collective and apply forward Cyclic at the same time.

At this point the max power and airspeed balance. The airspeed at which this balances varies based on how many people are in the helicopter, cargo carried, fuel onboard (its weight), and atmospheric conditions (temperature/humidity).

A typical Max Continuous Cruise Speed for a helicopter will vary based on its power available. A small Robinson R22 may cruise at 85knots, whereas a large, powerful Leonardo AW139 may cruise around 155knots.

Endurance Cruise:

A max power cruise may get you to the destination faster but what if the pilot wants to remain airborne for the longest time possible? This all comes down to fuel. A max power cruise will have a high fuel consumption rate, so aircraft test pilots find the best speed to give the lowest fuel consumption during initial aircraft certification.

An Airbus AS350 News Helicopter – Source: Jarrett Friend

This is very useful for helicopters conducting search missions or news helicopters wanting to stay on scene to catch the action. Pilots will fly at the endurance speed recommended in the aircraft’s flight manual.

For Example:

Airbus AS350 Astar Max Continuous Cruise = 125knots = 2.5 hours flight time
Airbus AS350 Astar Endurance Cruise = 55knots = 4 hours flight time

Range Cruise:

When a pilot is wanting to cover a large distance with the helicopter they will select the recommended range cruise speed. This has been calculated based on the distance gained for the given fuel consumption. This is typically used when pilots are ferrying machines across the country or traveling in remote areas where fuel stops are limited.

Typical Range cruise speeds are around 110-120knots.

Do Helicopter Blades Change Rotation Speed?

There is a misconception that a helicopter’s main rotor blades change rpm to alter the speed or height of a helicopter. Main rotor RPM is maintained at a set speed throughout all phases of flight via a mechanical or electronic fuel control governor no matter what controls the pilot moves.

A function of creating lift is airspeed over the airfoil. Because the helicopter’s main rotor blades are its airfoils they have to be maintained at the optimum speed. Power from the engine is constantly changing to overcome the airfoil drag to ensure the rotor RPM stays within limits.

For example, the Airbus AS350 maintains the main rotor rpm around 390, whereas a Boeing CH-47 Chinook maintains 230 rpm.

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Why Do Airplanes Have Different Shaped Wings?

We all know that wings are the reason behind aircraft being able to fly but for those of you with a keen eye, you may have noticed that not all wing shapes are the same. The questions are why do different aircraft have a particular shape of wing instead of all using the same shape?

Airplane wing shape is the culmination of design compromises. Aerodynamics, aircraft weight, operating speed, and the aerodynamic stress and loads imposed on them all require different shapes with the most efficient shape being used for that particular aircraft and its envelope of operation.

The most common airplane wing shapes are:

  • Rectangular
  • Elliptical
  • Tapered
  • Swept Back
  • Swept Forward
  • Delta

Each wing shape has both positive and negative aspects and during the design phase of the aircraft, the engineers have to spend hundreds of thousands of hours designing and testing the wing for the new aircraft.

No wing shape is perfect so the design team has to come up with the most efficient shape to create high lift and low drag at all speeds within the aircraft’s flight envelope. They can use additional devices like winglets, spoilers, and flaps to help with low-speed flight, but they are secondary to the main design.

As you can imagine the flight speeds and operational envelope of a simple training aircraft is very different to that of a commercial airliner, which in turn, is also very different from a high-performance military combat jet.

Because of these operational areas being so different from one another, the designers have to find the best wing shape to give the aircraft its highest performance within that operational area. The final design may be a particular wing shape or a combination of several shapes to get the highest performing wing.

As an airplane’s speed increases, the drag the wing creates also increases. This requires more power to overcome. Also, as an airplane’s speed increases and its altitude increases the controllability of the aircraft changes.

Airplanes flying at slow speeds and relatively low altitudes can have very basic wing designs because the lift and drag the wing produces changes very little. The stresses imparted on the aircraft are also very subtle because pilots elect to fly slow and steady.

As an aircraft gets faster and higher the wing shape needs to be changed to allow the drag created to be reduced and allow controllability to be maintained. If you then add in abrupt, high-G flight maneuvers the stresses imparted onto the wing can be considerable.

Basic wing constructions would fail under these conditions hence why different shapes are used.

Before hopping onto different shapes of wings, let’s discuss a basic wing construction which any wing, irrespective of its shape will possess.

Airplane Wing Construction

No matter the size and type of aircraft, all wings are built using the same similar design. Even from the dawn of aviation the wing construction design has stayed very similar, only with today’s modern aircraft using different materials and innovations to improve the wing.

Original Source: VansAircraft

All wings are constructed using the following components:

Main Spar:

The “I” beam kind of structure or ‘Spine’ that runs parallel to the lateral axis of the aircraft from wing root to wing tip. It acts as a primary load-bearing structure of each wing. Spars are connected to the fuselage structure to join the wing to the aircraft body.

Spars allow for the wing to flex up and down like a bird flapping its wings during turbulence and high-load moments.


Ribs are numerous structures running spanwise along the wing, each rib is fixed to the main spar fixed and provides secondary structure that takes the load from the leading edge to the trailing edge. The ribs create the curvature of the upper and lower surfaces to form the wings shape.


Stringers are pieces that run parallel to the main spar and connect each rib to one another. Stringers help to keep each rib parallel to its neighbor and help prevent twisting of the wing. There are numerous stringers that run along the wing from root to tip and these help the wing stay strong, yet flexible.


Metal sheets are placed on the wing spars and ribs, stressed and riveted to form not only the wing surface but also the housing for fuel. The latest generation of aircraft are now using composite materials and woven carbon fiber to create the wing’s surface making them even stronger than traditional aluminum and considerably lighter.

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What are the Different Types of Aircraft Wing Shape?

Rectangular Wings

Piper PA-28

They are most commonly used on training and personal airplanes where smooth control and stable flight is paramount. Construction of a rectangular wing is simple as it doesn’t have complex curves or any change in dimensions leading to low-cost manufacturing and maintenance.

Because of the low-speed flight (<150kts) and relatively low altitudes (<20,000ft) these aircraft fly at the best design choice is the rectangular wing. Another bonus of this shape is its more desirable stall characteristics which begins at the wing root making it less severe. A stall at the wing tip causes an airplane to roll.

This type of stall condition allows for lots of time for the pilot to recover should they find themselves flying into a dangerous flight characteristic.

Elliptical Wings

Supermarine Spitfire – Source: Airwolfhound

Pretty much the only time you will see an elliptical wing shape is on the Supermarine Spitfire of WWII. A revolution in its design in the 1930s.

The designers wanted a wing that was thick at the root to be able to house the landing gear, machine guns and fuel tanks, but thin at the wingtip. They also needed a wing that produced the least amount of drag at high speed to allow the top speed of the aircraft to be as high as possible to outmaneuver the German competition.

The elliptical design gave the best shape as it allowed for relatively easy manufacturing while reducing both the thickness and the taper from root to tip, but also reduced the wing tip air recirculation which dramatically increases drag. The elliptical wing tip provides the smallest area for the vortices to work on thus reducing the drag and allowing for more power to be used for airspeed.

The main problem with this wing shape, however, is that it can easily stall when flown at low speed. Because of this, pilots would fly them fast at all times, even when landing!

As aviation came out of WWII and the requirements for wings to house machine guns and be highly maneuverable made this wing shape obsolete. The very little warning for the onset of a stall also made them undesirable to the aviation world trying to focus on safe cargo and passenger transportation.

For more information on Wingtip Vortices and the Drag they create please read this article:

What are Airplane Wingtip Vortices?

Tapered Wings

Bombardier Dash 8 Q400

To find a balance between rectangular and elliptical wings, tapered wings were introduced.

The leading edge and the trailing edge of the wing tapers toward the tips, constantly reducing the width from root to tip. This helped in reducing the induced drag created by the wing and was also cheaper to manufacture.

The tapered design gives a small wing tip allowing for faster airspeeds compared to a rectangular wing due to the lower amount of wingtip vortices that act on the wing tip. Because of this, airspeeds up 415knots/475mph were achievable with good control throughout the speed range.

One downside to the tapered wing is the almost equal lift produced along the entire wing. The wing when it stalls, stalls entirely and gives the pilot very little time to react, but due to this wing becoming popular on early commercial aircraft the speed limitation pilots were to abide by made this issue non-existent.

You can find tapered wings in use in gliders, smaller commercial commuter aircraft like the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 above, or on the Lockheed Martin U2 spyplane (Wiki Link) which flies up to 70,000ft but is relatively slow to allow for reconnaissance images to be collected.

When airspeeds begin to go above 500mph drag becomes a major issue for wing designers and an alternate shape is required.

Swept Back Wings 

Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner – Source: pjs2005

Modern airliners have swept back wings due to the speed in which they fly. This is known as Transonic Speed and varies with atmospheric conditions, but generally is around the 0.8 – 1.2 Mach (615-920mph).

As a rectangular wing moves through the air in this speed range, areas of subsonic and supersonic airflows begin to form around the wings leadign edge. As a rectangular wing goes supersonic (approaching the sound barrier) the wing begins to experience unsteadiness, areas of irregular lift and higher areas of drag. This can cause the wing to stall and lead to a lose of control by the pilot/s.

To overcome these aerodynamic issues designers found that if they reduced the depth of the wing from leading edge to trailing edge (known as the ‘Chord’) this would slow the airflow down enough to prevent the onset of transonic airflow.

However, to gain enough lift from a wing with a thin chord would require wings to be incredibly long which does not work on a large commercial jet. Designers found that by gradually tapering or reducing the chord width from root to tip and sweeping the wings back it allowed the airflow meet the wing at an angle and kept the airflow subsonic while providing enough wing surface area to create sufficient lift for the airplane.

Swept Forward Wings

Grumman X-29

Forward swept wings have been tried by several countries and aircraft manufacturers but have never been put into mass production. The design of this type of wing was used to improve performance of the ailerons at both low and high speeds.

On a conventional wing the tip begins to stall first, either at high speed from Transonic airflow or by wingtip vortices. Because the ailerons are mounted close to the wing tips these stalled areas affected how well the ailerons worked. By sweeping the wings forward, designers found the root would stall before the tip, thus improving the performance of the ailerons, thus improving maneuverbility and controllability.

With these advantages the military was keen to develop this style of wing further but due to the aircraft needing advanced composites to build the wing to prevent excessive twisting of the wing tips and although highly manuevrable it was very unstable to fly, especially during certain high-speed maneuvers, the technology was never developed further. 

Delta Wings

Avro Vulcan – Source: Alistar Balbour

When flying around the sound barrier shockwaves form as they meet the wings leading edge. The shockwaves reduce lift and increase drag. For eary fast jet and bomber designers the Delta Wing allowed the rest of the wing to remain behind the shockwave created at the wing root.

By doing so the majority of the wing stayed in smooth airflow allowing for maximum lift production at high speed. Concorde was the most noticable Delta Wing aircraft with its steep leading edge on its delta.

Delta wings allow for a cavernous volume to be stored inside them making them perfect for large fuel or bomb loads, depending on the aircraft. Delta wings are now confined to military aircraft due to the the size of wing needed for commercial aircraft to be very, very large and less efficient as the swept back wing we see on all commercial airliners.

A Eurofighter Typhoon with Canard Wings Upfront

Delta wings can add much more maneuverability to a military fast jet, but in doing so can create controllability issues. To help overcome these issues most modern delta jets will use a combination of fly-by-wire computers and additional wings called Canards.

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What are the Parts of an Airplane Wing?

To most passengers, the wings are just part of the airplane however, they are one of the most technologically advanced parts of an aircraft. They carry not only the load of the passengers and fuel but also of the aircraft itself.

They are fundamental in the creation of lift that makes airplanes fly in the first place but they are also the preferred place for mounting engines, storing the fuel, and controlling how the aircraft flies. In addition to this, they have to do it efficiently over a whole spectrum of flight regimes.

Airplane wings are made up of spars, ribs, and stringers and contain items to control how the aircraft flies. Ailerons, spoilers, slats, flaps, engine pylons, winglets/sharklets, lights, and vortex generators are all found on modern wings as well as storing fuel within them.

We all know that wings are what produced the lift to make the airplane fly but what are all the added extra parts that a keen eye may see moving during various parts of a flight?

If you want to know what makes up a modern airplane’s wing please read on…

Common Terms Used on Airplane Wings:

Before we jump into what components are found on an airplane’s wings, we need to have a look at some common terms regarding airplane wings:

1. Leading Edge:

The leading edge is the front of the wing as seen while standing in front of the airplane. It provides the attachment for the pylon where the engine is attached. It also contains a number of other components such as slats and Krueger flaps.

2. Trailing Edge:

The trailing edge is the back of the wing as seen from the rear of the aircraft. It has a number of components attached such as ailerons, flaperons, trailing edge flaps etc. 

3. Wing Root:

The point where the wing attaches to the body of the aircraft is known as the wing root. Usually, the wing is the thickest at the wing root.

4. Wing Tip:

The point of the wing furthest from the body of the aircraft is known the wing tip. 

Common Components on an Airplane Wing

Pretty much all airplane wings are primarily composed of spars and ribs. Think of spars as parallel support structures that start from the wing root all the way to the wing tip. They create the spine of the wing and take most of the load.

Wing Spars

Ribs are perpendicular support structures that run from the leading edge of the wing to the trailing edge. Spars and ribs provide the basic structure for the wing. Just like the ribs in out own bodies, they create the profile shape of the wing and create the cavity within the wing.

Wing Ribs

Modern wings are made from light, yet strong materials such as carbon fiber, reinforced carbon carbon(RCC), and other composite materials. In addition, advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3-D printing, honeycomb structure design, and computer modeling are used to make wings lighter yet capable of carrying heavier loads than before, with even less drag and more lift created.

Components on a Wings Leading Edge:

The leading edge of a wing features the following components:

1. Krueger Flaps / Slats:

Krueger Flaps are lift augmentation devices positioned between the wing root and the inboard side of the engine. Their main purpose is to allow the inboard section of the wing to create a larger amount of lift at slower speeds. The amount of lift created by a wing is based on airspeed, among a few other factors.

They are mainly used at takeoff and landing to allow more lift to be generated during these low-speed portions of flight. More lift generated, allows for shorter runway distance to be used on takeoff and slower landing speeds during approach.

Slats however are positioned from the outboard side of the engine to the wing tip. The primary purpose of a slat is to increase the surface area of the upper portion of the wing and alter the shape of the wing to be more efficient at slower speeds.

Just like how airspeed affects how much lift is produced, so does surface area. By increasing the surface area of the wing this allows more lift to be produced at slower speeds.

Without the Kruger Flaps and Slats, airplanes would need a higher speed to land and take off to create the required amount of lift meaning more runway used leaving a smaller margin for aborted takeoffs and landings.

Slats / Krueger flaps can be operated either hydraulically or electrically on most aircraft by the pilots. The flaps and slats can be deployed to set positions depending on the current performance of the aircraft for the given runway length and atmospheric conditions.

2. Engine Pylon

The engine pylon connects the engine with the wing. Pylons are designed to be highly aerodynamic and reduce air resistance as much as possible while providing an extremely strong, yet flexible mounting point for the engine.

Typically each engine is pinned to the pylon with 4 bolts known as ‘Fuse Pins’.

A Pylon with Engine Cowls Removed – Source: Mgw89

In addition to the mechanical connection, they also hide the electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic, fuel, and oil connections from the engine to the rest of the aircraft and vice versa. Because the fixing points need to be strong they are constructed out of Titanium to keep the weight down. Using steel would dramatically increase the pylon weight by several hundred pounds each.

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Components on a Wings Trailing Edge:

The trailing edge of a wing includes the following components:

1. Trailing Edge Flaps:

Trailing edge flaps are located at the rear of the aircraft wing. Their main purpose is twofold; first, they provide the same amount of lift at slower speed, second, they reduce takeoff, approach, and landing speeds to within acceptable limits.

Just like the slats of the leading edge of the wing, they increase the surface area and alter the shape of the wing to produce more lift. By slowing the aircraft down and deploying the flaps the wing creates the same amount of lift but at lower speeds.

Flaps can also be deployed to various positions depending on the aircraft’s speed and weight during takeoff and approach. Here are typical flap settings for a Boeing 737:

Up to
117,000lbs / 53,070Kg
117,000lbs / 53,070Kg
138,500lbs / 62,823Kg
Flaps Up210kts220kts230kts
Flaps 1190kts200kts210kts
Flaps 5180kts190kts200kts
Flaps 10170kts180kts190kts
Flaps 15150kts160kts170kts
Flaps 25140kts150kts160kts
Flaps 30Final Approach SpeedFinal Approach SpeedFinal Approach Speed
Flaps 40Final Approach SpeedFinal Approach SpeedFinal Approach Speed
For Boeing 737 – 300/400/500
Source: Andrew Fry

During approach to land, the pilots will deploy more flap as the airspeed decreases. This helps to create more lift and allows for better control as the aircraft slows and nears the ground.

During braking, the pilots deploy the spoilers which allow the airflow around the wing to escape through the flaps and tun them into a large sail.

When used in conjunction with the spoilers, reverse thrust from the engines, and the wheel brakes the aircraft can be slowed dramatically in a fairly short length of runway.

During approach to land, the pilots will deploy more flap as the airspeed decreases. This helps to create more lift and allows for better control as the aircraft slows and nears the ground.

Depending on the aircraft, trailing edge flaps are of the following types:

Source: NiD.29

On all large commercial airplanes, trailing edge flaps are deployed either electrically or hydraulically. However, on most light aircraft, trailing edge flaps are deployed using a system of rods, cables, and pulleys due to the requirement to save weight thus eliminating heavy hydraulic and electrical deployments systems.

2. Ailerons / Spoilers:

Ailerons are the primary control surfaces used to roll the aircraft along its longitudinal axis. They function by increasing or decreasing the amount of lift produced on each wing. Ailerons used in combination with flaps are called flaperons.

Low speed ailerons, positioned towards the wingtip, are locked out once the aircraft exceeds a certain speed due to the amount of rolling force they would generate at high speeds.    

Source: Jg4817

Spoilers are secondary control surfaces positioned close to the trailing edge. They have three main purposes:

  1. To slow the airplane down
  2. To provide a steeper descent
  3. To assist the ailerons

On the ground, spoilers are deployed as soon as the aircraft touches down, these increase the drag over the wing by acting like a sail or parachute and creates a downward aerodynamic force placing more weight on the aircraft wheels thus enabling the brakes to work more effectively.

Other Wing Components:

 1. Vortex Generators:

Vortex generators are small aerodynamic tabs fitted near the leading edge of the wing. Their main purpose is to create small vortices within the air flowing over them. By mixing these vortices with the sluggish airflow near the surface area of the wing they help to increase the airflow speed.

By doing so they help to decrease aerodynamic stalling on the wing and increase control surface efficiency.

2. Winglets/Sharklets

Winglets (Boeing) and Sharklets (Airbus) are designed to stop air flowing from the underside of the wing, around the wingtip and onto the topside of the wing.

When this occurs it alters the airflow over the wing area nearest the tip creating less lift to be produced. By adding these ‘Fins’ they act like a wall to the air trying to flow around the tip. Instead of the circulating air affecting the airflow on the main wing, it now interacts with the air flowing around the winglet leaving the wing to create lift along its entire length.

If you would like more specific information on Winglets and Sharklets please read this:

What are Airplane Wingtip Vortices?

3. Lights:

The wing of an aircraft contains landing lights, navigation lights, and anti-collision strobe lights.
The landing lights are powerful and are located right next to the wing root.
The navigational lights are red and green and positioned near the wingtip.

The anti-collision strobe lights are the flashing white lights on the wingtip. They are switched on when entering an active runway and switched off when vacating the runway.

4. Fuel Tanks:

Fuel tanks are created using the inside of the wing structure. A normal setup would be to have an inner tank and outer tank on each wing along with a center tank mounted inbetween the two wing roots. Fuel is transferred from one side to another using cross transfer pumps to ensure the airplanes center of gravity remains within limits   

Source: Tosaka

On most commerical airplanes fuel is transferred to the engines using engine-driven pumps located on each engine along with two electric pumps in each tank. Ideally, fuel is used up first from the center tank and then the wing tanks as this allows for optimal weight distribution.  

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Why is Learning to Fly So Expensive?

When I first began looking at what it took to become a pilot the one thing that stood out by a mile was how much it costs to learn how to fly! At that time I was in my late teens and the cost just ruled it out for me being a regular Joe. Surely the only people that can become a pilot are the wealthy!

Learning to fly is expensive due to the high hourly rental costs of the aircraft & the large number of hours required to meet the requirements to take flight tests. Aircraft costs like fuel, insurance, instructor, depreciation, maintenance & school facilities are all included in the hourly rental cost.

After many years and lots of research I found a way to be able to afford the cost of flight training and I became a full-time helicopter pilot. In this article I’m going to discuss why it costs so much to learn how to fly, but also give you tips and tricks on how you can make it cheaper!

The cost of learning to fly is broken down into two parts:

  1. The hourly rental cost of the aircraft
  2. The number of hours required to take the flight test

The culmination of these two numbers is what the final bill will come to once you have gained your pilots certificate. For pilots wishing to fly just for recreation the aircraft they learn to fly in can be simpler and cheaper and will require less hours to gain their pilot certificate – Thus costs less.

For those pilots who wish to fly as a profession, they will require mulitple pilot certificates and require training on various aircraft with increasing hourly rental costs – This costs alot!

If you wish to see what it costs to become any kind of pilot I highly recommend you take a read of this aritcle:

Cost To Become A Pilot: All the Licenses Compared!

What Goes Into Hourly Aircraft Rental Costs?

Aircraft are an expensive vehicle and they cost the owner money every year to keep them airworthy no matter if they fly or not. To offset these costs the aircraft is budgeted to fly a set amount of hours per year to which these fixed costs can be divided.

When an aircraft is then flown, the cost to fly it is added onto that hourly cost. The more it flies, the cheaper the hourly rate becomes.

To cover the cost of the training aircraft the flight school owner needs to include the following into the hourly cost to remain profitable:

Aircraft Costs:

Planned & Unplanned Maintenance

All aircraft have to have regular inspections based upon time flown or per calendar date. These inspections require a licensed aviation mechanic to do the inspection which includes their labor, the facility space for the inspection and then the lost revenue of the aircraft being taken off the flight line.

Aircraft Maintenance Engineers are the Best! – Source: Peter F.A. van de Noort

Parts will need to be replaced with regular wear and tear and some items need to be replaced or completely overhauled at a set amount of hours flown. For example; a typical airplane engine may require a complete overhaul at 2000 hours with a cost of $20,000-$30,000.

When students mess up and bend or damage part of the aircraft that unexpected cost has to be absorbed by the school to have the parts replaced, time for the mechanic, and loss of time from the flight line.

Aircraft maintenance can be by far one of the biggest components of an aircraft’s hourly rental cost.

Fuel & Oil

We all know how much fuel prices keep increasing! The same happens with the flight schools. Aircraft are thirsty and even the smallest training airplanes and helicopters can guzzle their way through around 7-10 gallons of aviation gasoline (Avgas) per hour at roughly $5.50/gal.

This equates to around $55/hour alone.

Engine oil is also consumed at a fairly rapid pace with regular oil changes required to ensure the engine runs at peak performance. This also gets added onto the hourly rental cost.


To learn how to fly you need someone crazy enough to be sat in the seat next you showing you what to do and rescuing the aircraft when the student loses control. It happens alot during the first couple of hours, especially when learning to fly a helicopter!

I have a few more gray hairs after becoming a flight instructor!

My days as an instructor where great fun and the flight school had to charge for my time for them to pay me.

Schools will typically charge the instructor out at anywhere from $40-$70 per flight hour.


As you can imagine, the insurance costs to cover the aircraft, the student, the instructor and then any damage to persons or property on the ground is very high. Flight training is a risky business and aviation as a whole has a bad stigma for accidents, which usually end up with fatalities.

Insurance premiums the flight school must pay are high and those must be passed onto the students within the hourly rental rate.

Purchase Cost & Depreciation

Noobody can learn how to fly and gain their pilot certificate without being an an aircraft at some point. To purchase that aircraft is not cheap, even a small used Cessna 152 with good time remaining on it can cost $100,000. If the scholl wishes to purchase a new aircraft they are looking at over $300,000.

To recoupe the initial purchase cost the school will take the estimated life of the aircraft in hours and divide that by the cost needed to recoup the investment, then add a portion of that cost to each flight hour over the aircrafts life.

Regulatory Compliance

To maintain high standards of safety the FAA or aircraft manufacturers can release AD’s (Airworthiness Directives) that aircraft owners must comply with. These can be in the form of an increased inspection schedule of a component or maybe even the upgrade or aircraft avionics.

The cost of complying with the AD’s need to be covered by the flight school but ultimately will be passed onto the student in the hourly rental cost.

Flight School Costs:

In addition to the cost just to keep the aircraft airworthy are the costs to run and maintain the school. This is a cost that can be reduced by students if they wish to purchase their own aircraft and have an instructor teach them in it, or by using a local instructor who has their own aircraft.

When a student attends a flight school the running costs also need to be included into the hourly rental costs of each aircraft to ensure a roof remains over their heads.

Here are some of the typical facility costs added onto each aircraft flight hour:

Facility Rent/Mortgage/Lease

Most flight schools will lease their facility and hanger space from the airport on which it resides. This means monthly lease fees unless the owner was/is lucky enough to have purchsed the facility outright.

No matter who owns the building, the cost of ownership must be covered and again, this goes into the cost per hour for each aircraft.

Landing Fees

For airports to remain open they need to make money off the aircraft utilizing them to pay for and maintain the airport property, and save future airport improvements. To do this, airports lease out the hanger and office spaces mentioned above, but they also charge each aircraft a fee everytime it lands.

Most flight schools will have a fixed-fee contract with the airport management based on the number of landings the schools aircraft completed in the previous years, but again, this cost is passed onto the hourly aircraft rental cost.


When students are not flying they need a place to be taught ground school and study, the staff need a place to work and the engineers need a place to maintain and repair the aircraft.

The HVAC, electricity, natural gas, water/sewer, insurances and taxes must all be paid to keep the school up and running. These fees are broken down and spread across the aircraft fleet.


All good flight schools need great staff to ensure it runs well. The smaller the school, the fewer the staff members are required, but typically the school will have at least the following:

  • Owner
  • Reception/Admin/Dispatcher
  • Instructor/s
  • Maintenance Engineer/s

Larger schools may also have:

  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Human Resources
  • Chief Pilot/s
  • Operations Managers
  • Student Liasons

Staff do not come cheap and the bigger the school, the higher the salary budget becomes. To cover these salaries the costs are split up over the fleet hours for the year and then each bit is added onto the hourly rental cost of the aircraft.


For any school to become successful they need to get students in the door. Most flight schools will have a healthy budget allocated for national and sometimes global advertising across all media platforms.

Social media ads, digital brochures and promotional videos are not cheap so again, these costs are passed onto the student.


No matter how well the school appears to be the students best friend, they are all a business and need to make a profit. No profit means the business can become cash poor and unable to absorb unforseen costs like a student starting up an brand new helicopter with the throttle fully open!

Yes, it did happen during my time there to a student on one of their solo hour-building trips and the cost for a replacement Robinson R22 helicopter engine was probably close to $100,000. Without cash in the bank this could have folded the flight school.

All of the components that make up the hourly rental costs are totalled up and then a few more dollars are added to each hour to ensure the business is ran profitably to ensure its success.

The Robinson R22 Helicopter

As of writing this here are some typical total hourly rental costs for common training aircraft:

AircraftHourly Rental Cost
Cessna 152 Airplane$155/hour
Cessna 172 Airplane$180/hour
Robinson R22 Helicopter$345/hour
Robinson R44 Helicopter$515/hour

Now that we know how much the aircraft costs we need to look at how many hours are required by the FAA to become a pilot!

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What is the Cost of Flight Training?

The FAA has split up its pilot certificates into a variety of categories to allow everyone to select the type of pilot they wish to become. Each certificate has its own requirements that must be met for it to be awarded to the applicant upon successful completion of the flight test.

The FAA has pilot certificates in the following categories:

  • Recreational Pilot – Airplane
  • Sport Pilot – Airplane
  • Private Pilot – Airplane & Helicopter
  • Commercial Pilot – Airplane & Helicopter
  • Airline Transport Pilot – Airplane & Helicopter
  • Certified Flight Instructor – Airplane & Helicopter

There are many classes within these pilot certificates that cover other aircraft like Hot Air Balloons, Gliders, Paragliders etc, but they have been left out for the relevence of this article.

For most pilots, the Private Pilot Certificate is the usual starting point for their flying endeavors and is what we will cover below:

Cost To Become an Airplane Private Pilot?

On average, it takes a student around 60 hours and $11,000 to gain their Private Airplane Pilot Certificate. Flight training will cost around $8,800, examinations around $700, ground study training around $1,000, and $400-$500 of extras like a headset, books, and flight training materials.

The FAA requirements to become a Fixed Wing Private Pilot are:
14 CFR Part61 Subpart E §61.109(a)

Minimum Age:17
Any Previous License Required:Student Pilot, Sport Pilot or Recreational Pilot
Total Flight Hours Required:40
Dual Hours Required:20
Solo Hours Required:10


Flight Training:

40 hours is the minimum required by the FAA, although most students complete the training in around 60 hours. Of the minimum 40 hours, 20 must be with an instructor, 10 must be solo, and 3 must be at night, although more hours are usually undertaken.

Average Hourly Rate of Cessna 152 Aircraft = $110/Hour
Average Hourly Rate of Flight Instructor = $45/Hour

FAA Minimum:
40 Total:

30 hours Dual x ($110+$45) = $4,650
10 hours Solo x $110 = $1,100

Total = $5,750

Student Average:
60 Total:
50 hours Dual x ($110+$45) = $7,750
10 hours Solo x $110 = $1,100

Total = $8,850

Ground School or Theory:

All students will require between 10-20 hours of one-on-one ground school with an instructor to cover aspects of flight, maneuvers, emergency procedures, etc. This ground is to prepare the student for the Practical Flight Examination (Checkride).

In addition, the student will need to complete some form of Home-Study course to prepare them for the Knowledge Written Examination.

Average Ground Instructor Hourly Rate = $45/Hour
Average FW Private Pilot DVD/Online Training Course = From $250


Medical Examination = At least a Third Class Medical Certificate. Average $60 (Ranged from $40-$80) or BasicMed
Written Examination = Average $150 (Ranged from $140-$175)
Flight Examination = Average $500 (Flight Examiner Ranged from $400-$600)


Most students will require around $500 extras that can consist of:

  • Headset ($300)
  • Books
  • Charts
  • Aircraft Inspection Tools
  • Flight Planning Tools

Total Private Pilot – FW Costs:

FAA Minimum:
40 Hours Total:

  • 30 hours Dual x ($110+$45) = $4,650
  • 10 hours Solo x $110 = $1,100
  • Home-Study Theory Training = $250
  • Medical Examination = $60
  • Written Examination = $150
  • Flight Examination = $500
  • Extras = $500

Total = $7,210

Student Average:
60 hours Total:

  • 50 hours Dual x ($110+$45) = $7,750
  • 10 hours Solo x $110 = $1,100
  • 15 hours One-On-One Ground Training x $45 = $675
  • Home-Study Theory Training = $250
  • Medical Examination = $60
  • Written Examination = $150
  • Flight Examination = $500
  • Extras = $500

Total = $10,985

Cost to Become a Helicopter Private Pilot?

On average, it takes a student around 60 hours and $23,000 to gain their Private Helicopter Pilot Certificate. Flight training will cost around $20,000, examinations around $1,150, ground study training around $1,200, and $400-$500 of extras like a headset, books, and flight training materials.

The FAA requirements to become a RW (Helicopter) Private Pilot are:
14 CFR Part61 Subpart E §61.109(c)

Minimum Age:17
Any Previous License Required:Student Pilot, Sport Pilot or Recreational Pilot
Total Flight Hours Required:40
Dual Hours Required:20
Solo Hours Required:10


Flight Training:

40 hours is the minimum required by the FAA, although most students complete the training in around 60 hours. Of the minimum 40 hours, 20 must be with an instructor, 10 must be solo, and 3 must be at night, although more hours are usually undertaken.

Average Hourly Rate of Robinson R22 Helicopter = $300/Hour
Average Hourly Rate of Flight Instructor = $45/Hour

FAA Minimum:
40 Total:
30 hours Dual x ($300+$45) = $10,350
10 hours Solo x $300 = $3,000

Total = $13,350

Student Average:
60 Total:
50 hours Dual x ($300+$45) = $17,250
10 hours Solo x $300 = $3,000

Total = $20,250

Ground School or Theory:

All students will require between 15-30 hours of one-on-one ground school with an instructor to cover aspects of aerodynamics, flight, maneuvers, emergency procedures, etc. This ground is to prepare the student for the Practical Flight Examination (Checkride).
In addition, the student will need to complete some form of Home-Study course to prepare them for the Knowledge Written Examination.

Average Ground Instructor Hourly Rate = $45/Hour
Average RW Private Pilot DVD/Online Training Course = From $250


Medical Examination = At least a Third Class Medical Certificate. Average $60 (Ranged from $40-$80) or BasicMed
Written Examination = Average $150 (Ranged from $140-$175)
Flight Examination = Average $950 (Flight Examiner Ranged from $400-$600) + 1.5 Hours R22 Rental


Most students will require around $500 extras that can consist of:

  • Headset ($300)
  • Books
  • Charts
  • Aircraft Inspection Tools
  • Flight Planning Tools

Total Private Pilot – RW Costs:

FAA Minimum:
40 Hours Total:

  • 30 hours Dual x ($300+$45) = $10,350
  • 10 hours Solo x $300 = $3,000
  • Home-Study Theory Training = $250
  • Medical Examination = $60
  • Written Examination = $150
  • Flight Examination = $950
  • Extras = $500

Total = $15,260

Student Average:
60 hours Total:

  • 50 hours Dual x ($300+$45) = $17,250
  • 10 hours Solo x $300 = $3,000
  • 20 hours One-On-One Ground Training x $45 = $900
  • Home-Study Theory Training = $250
  • Medical Examination = $60
  • Written Examination = $150
  • Flight Examination = $950
  • Extras = $500

Total = $22,560

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What Do Pilots Do Between Flights? A Pilot Explains

As an airline pilot, I often get asked what pilots get up to in between flights. Depending on the type of flight routing we have will dictate how much time we get between flights and thus what we can get up to.

During quick turnarounds between flights most pilots will check the weather, the aircraft loading sheet, get some food and use the bathroom. On long-haul flights where overnight stays are required then trips into the city to experience local culture and cuisine is a popular choice for many pilots.

If you want to know just what typical pilot breaks are like and what we get up to please read on…

Since commercial short haul flying is my day-to-day let’s start with this one.

What Do Pilots Do Between Short Haul Flights?

So what are short haul operations? Short haul operations are flights from A to B taking no longer than 3 hours per flight leg and always ending up back to your base airport. So no hotel, no overnights and no out of base operations.

In short haul flying the pilots prepare everything on the same day and usually fly 2 or 4 legs or, also known as ‘Sectors’ within the industry. This number can extend up to 8 sectors per day if the flights are in the region of 30 minutes each, basically 4 round-trip journeys.

So what is that we do between flights then? Let’s start at the beginning before even the first flight.

Pilots usually meet up an hour to 45 minutes before the flight to discuss the possible threats (Factors that can affect flight safety) and other operational requirements for the day. The fuel calculation and weather condition checks usually takes place before every flight, even though the flight planning department give us all the information, its always good to proof-check it.

The pilots and cabin crew will then have a group briefing, again, about the threats of the day, turnaround times, weather, turbulence and other special requests either the cabin or the flight crew has to ask. This might be something like checking the door handles before securing the cabin for example, if the company has found that small errors have been made on mulitple occasions throughout the fleet.

The preflight briefing takes place only once before the first flight of the day although nothing prohibits the crew of rebriefing if anything happens during the shift, but most of the time, it’s only once.

Between sector 1 and sector 2 the airline planning department usually create the lowest turnaround time increment, giving the crew as little as 25 minutes for a turnaround!

For the cabin crew this includes: Deboarding the passengers, cleaning the cabin, securing the cabin (looking for illegal items left behind by passengers), and boarding the new passengers.

During this time the pilots have to finish their paperwork for the flight that just landed and then prepare the aircraft for the next sector.

What kind of paperwork? These days everything is inserted into the iPad so it is not actually paper work, but you get the point. This includes, take off time, fuel on take off, passenger load, cargo load, fuel checks every 30 minutes, landing time and any additional information required. All this has to be sent into HQ before the next flight.

The pilots then spilt the flying duties equally thoughout the day for each sector. A usual pattern in a 4 sector day (2 round-trip flights per day) is that the First Officer flies the 1st and the 4th sectors and the Captain flies the 2nd and the 3rd sectors. This gives the Captain time to check the aircraft’s documents and to fill out the aircraft’s technical log at the beginning and end of each day.

After the paperwork has been completed the designated PF (pilot flying) has to prepare the aircraft for the next flight. The Pilot Flying role is decided usually during the initial briefing before the first flight of the sector, as mentioned above.

The PF then prepares the aircraft for the next flight. What does that include? First of all we check the weather to decide on the fuel required for the next flight, we also check the NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen – these consist of pertinant information to pilots about taxiway/runway closures, closed airspace, navigation beacon outages etc), and then the threats in case anything has arisen the could disturb the normal operation of the next flight.

After all this is done the PF starts preparing the FMS (Flight Management System) computer of the aircraft to basically program the autopilot. That means, inserting the new route, the new data for the weight and balance of the aircraft, flap and trim settings and the initial routing after take off.

While the Flying Pilot (PF) is inside readying the cockpit the other pilot usually referred as PM (Pilot Monitoring or PNF, Pilot Not Flying) is outside checking the aircraft externally for any visual damage, bird strikes and any other thing that might come up. They will be in contact with the ground staff and the airport staff and also orders the fuel required for the next flight leg.

Refulling Needs Careful Attention to Ensure Correct Quantity is Delivered – Source: Ilya Plekhanov

Once all this is done, the PM returns to the cockpit so now the two pilots have time to brief the next flight and especially the take off. Airlines use different procedures but concentrate on the one we are using in my company. It’s called T.R.I.B.E.T.S.

T – Threats and Error Management
R – Route Check
I – Instrument Cross Check
B – Briefing for Takeoff
E – Emergency Brief
T – Taxi
S – Standard Instrument Departure (SID)

This is a model covering all the needs for taxiing and takeoff and is widely used in across the globe. It gives the pilots chance to discuss all the important aspects of the takeoff portion and allows each other to know exactly what needs to be done, especially if an emergency arises.

It also gives the pilots chance to double check each other to ensure they are using the correct takeoff data, information, procedures and allows for mistakes to be found before they are implemented.

After the briefing and setup of the aircraft comes the performance calculations. Using an iPad, the pilots insert passenger and cargo loads, wind, temperature and flap settings to get the take off performance numbers like the speed of the aircraft and the engine thrust setting to be used. More importantly this is done to check if the aircraft can safely lift off within the available runway distance for the current atmospheric conditions.

After the performance calculations the last thing we do is the checklist. The checklist is one of the most important parts of the turnaround and it should never be skipped or rushed for any reason whatsoever. The checklist is there to prevent any mistakes done on the setup or any other thing that might have been forgotten during the setup or during the briefing.

The checklist should be followed by both pilots and there should be no interruptions in between.

After all that is done the pilots request the Clearance to the destination and the Taxi instructions from air traffic control.

Well done! You just made a 25 minute turnaround!

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What Do Pilots Do Between Mid Haul Flights?

Mid haul operations is the most common way airliners operate. Mid haul operations vary between 1-4 sectors, but the most usual pattern is 3 sectors.

Starting from your base airport (A), for your first sector you land at the airport of destination (B).
Then from (B) you fly again to your base (A)
On your last sector you fly to the (C) point and you have an overnight there.

For Example:

Home Airport (A) = Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport
Fly To (B) = Heartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Sector 1)
Fly To (A) = Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (Sector 2)
Fly To (C) = Denver International Airport (Sector 3)
Overnight in Denver, Colorado

After at least 12 hours of rest you are ready to fly back to your base but this time you fly from (C) to (A). Then from (A) you have 2 sectors that eventually lead you back to your base.

Current Airport (C) = Denver International Airport
Fly To (A) = Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (Sector 1)
Fly To (B) = Heartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Sector 2)
Fly To Home Airport = Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (Sector 3)

This is a typical 2 day crew pairing that is very common. Fly, Spend the night, Fly, Finish and go home

Between each flight on mid haul operations the pilots do exactly the same as on the shourt haul operations with the exception of the overnight stay.

Eating the ‘Best Pizza in Town’ is Always a Crews Favorite!

Crews will spend the night doing a varity of things like most of us on a single night stay. Some crews like to socialize together while others prefer the solo life. Each crew member is different. Many of the common things crews like to do can include:

  • Going to local restaurants for an authentic meal
  • Going for a walk around the city and exploring
  • Working out in the hotel gym
  • Catching up with family video video messaging and phone calls
  • Watching a movie
  • Studying for a promotion
  • etc

Depending on when a flight crew arrives at the hotel will dictate what they are able to do. Flights that arrive late in the evening usually only allow the crews to sleep and then have a few hours free in the morning, or for those that arrive earlier in the day may have the opportunity for an evening meal in a resturant other than at the hotel.

What Do Pilots Do Between Long Haul Flights?

Long haul operations usually only have 1 flight per day unless a technical or refueling stop is required somewhere in between the flight. This is typically a trans-continental or trans-oceanic flight with a duty day from 7 to 12 hours.

Before the flight the planning is almost the same but this time pilots plan for the entire flight instead of just a sector at a time. They will look at the weather for both now and during the entire flight duration.

Let’s take for example, a flight connecting NewYork and London. This flight takes approximately 8 hours. Upon reaching London the pilots by law have at have at least 12 hours of rest in between but this time is usually more than a day.

Depending on the time between flights, pilots can pretty much do whatever they want. Between the incoming flight and the outbound flight the pilots and the cabin crews are practically off-duty, out of base. That means that each crew member is entitled to extra money for food, hotel and entertainment.

Yes, companies pay their crews to have fun in between flights when out of base. Of course it’s the responsibility of each of them to be well rested and in great shape to operate the return flight!

Snorkelling is a Great Choice for Long Haul Rest Days!

The crew is allowed to drink alcohol but they are also required to be sober at least 12 hours before their next duty. These longer overnight stays give the crews much more time to explore the local area as these routings are usually of 3 days in duration:

Day 1 = Fly Out
Day2 = Rest Day
Day 3 = Fly Back

I have known pilots to become a tourist and go on excursions to visit places of interest, go snorkelling in crystal clear oceans and rivers, relax on the beach and work on their tan. Even though crews are free from duty, they do have to be sensible during their overnight stay.

Activities that involve added danger and risk are frowned upon as an injury then requires that crew member to be replaced at short notice by the airline. This can mean a crew member being flown out as all the other crews are already assembled for their own flights.

Header Image Source: Kristoferb

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How Big are Aircraft Runways?

Have you ever been sat in an airport terminal looking at the runway and wondered about the dimensions of runways? How long is a particular runway, and why? What determines runway width, and how deep is the pavement?

Runway size is designed based on the size of aircraft that will be using them and the local year-round climactic conditions. Larger aircraft need longer, wider, and stronger runways than small aircraft. Most international airport runways are at least 150ft/46m wide & 6,000-15,000ft/1,829-4,572m long.

When planning to construct a runway, engineers need to consider the type of aircraft that will most frequently be utilizing the facility this will be the biggest deciding factor in the future of the airport.

The altitude and climate will help determine the length of the runway and type of preferred surface (i.e., concrete, asphalt, or a combination), and it’s crucial to know if there is a slope to the land, no matter how slight, so that the runway length is just right for ideal operations.

Much like the length, the builders of a new runway will need to know what type of aircraft will be taking off and landing most frequently, so that the correct width is planned based on FAA categorization (More on this later).

During my private pilot training I experienced runways that were as narrow as 35 feet, to as wide as 150 feet. Sitting in a small 2-seat aircraft on a 150ft wide runway on which large commercial jet airplane land is an intimidating experience when you first line up for takeoff!

Let’s get into more runway design specifics.

How is Runway Length Determined?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established recommended runway lengths that are spelled out in Advisory Circular 150/5325-4B. Initially, all airport locations are considered to be identical with no obstructions for takeoff or landing, no wind, a dry runway surface, and totally flat terrain.

Planners then consider the type of aircraft that will most likely be utilizing the field, from small planes weighing no more than 12,500lbs / 5,670kg at takeoff, to larger planes than weigh in excess of the same weight specification.

Other crucial factors that help determine runway length include the field’s altitude, climactic factors such as hot weather, strong winds, or frequent snowy or icy conditions. Each of these factors will lead to a longer runway than a dry one located at sea level, with no discernable landing or takeoff difficulties (think San Diego).

Here are some typical aircraft takeoff roll distances at 50°F, sea level, no wind, max gross weight:

Cessna 152 (2 seats)775ft / 236m
Beech Bonanza (6 seats)1,913ft / 583m
Boeing 737-8004,955ft / 1,510m
Gulfstream 500 (private jet) 5,300ft / 1,615m
Airbus A3217,500ft / 2,286m
Airbus A3809,800ft / 2,987m
Boeing 777-30011,614ft / 3,540m
ft =Feet, m = Meters

On the flip side is Denver International Airport with an elevation of over 5,400feet / 1,645meters and frequent snow and ice during the winter season, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport where summer temperatures well over 100°F degrees are common.

Take the Boeing 737-800 above. At sea level with standard atmospheric conditions (wiki link) it will take around 4,955ft / 1,510m to become airborne. Take the exact same aircraft and have it take off a runway but at 4,000ft / 1,220m and it now requires a takeoff roll of 6,000ft / 1,830m!

A higher altitude, expected inclement weather, and excessive heat are all reasons designers add considerable length to a runway as all of these conditions degrade the aircraft’s performance in some way and the additional space is required to allow the aircraft to operate safely without running out of runway.

Long Runways at Some Major International Airports:

Airports with longer runways that could accommodate jet aircraft were mostly built in the 1960s or later, and are primarily located farther from the city center where land was available at the time of construction.

Here are some of the world’s busiest airports:

AirportRunway LengthRunway Width
John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York14,572ft / 4,442m200ft / 61m
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport14,001ft / 4,268m200ft / 61m
Istanbul New Airport13,500ft / 4,115m200ft / 61m
Narita International Airport, Tokyo 13,123ft / 4,000m200ft / 61m
Miami International Airport13,016ft / 3,967m150ft / 46m
Chicago O’Hare International Airport13,000ft / 3,962m150ft / 46m
Los Angeles International Airport12,923ft / 3,939m150ft / 46m
London Heathrow International Airport12,800ft / 3,901m150ft / 46m
Beijing Daxing International Airport12,500ft / 3,810m150ft / 46m
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport11,500ft / 3,505m150ft / 46m

Short, Longest Runways at Some Major U.S. Airports:

These airports were built close to the downtown core well before the jet-age, in order to service propeller-driven aircraft that required far less runway than today’s jetliners:

AirportRunway LengthRunway Width
Dallas Love Field8,800ft / 2,682m150ft / 46m
Houston Hobby Airport7,602ft / 2,317m150ft / 46m
Washington/Reagan National Airport7,169ft / 2,185m150ft / 46m
La Guardia Airport, New York7,000ft / 2,134m150ft / 46m
Midway Airport, Chicago6,522ft / 1,988m150ft / 46m

Where are Some of the Longest Runways in the World?

Qamdo Bamda Airport (ZUBD), Tibet, China

Located high in the Hengduan Mountain Range at 14,435ft / 4,400m above sea level, the 18,045ft / 5,500m runway is necessary because aircraft engine performance is drastically reduced with the high altitude location of this runway. This requires longer takeoff rolls necessitating higher speeds, as well as increased landing distances.

Zhukovsky International Airport (UUBW), Moscow, Russia

The newest passenger airport in the city opened in 2016 with its major runway being 17,723ft / 5,400m long! Planners decided on such a long runway to accommodate any size aircraft that may be developed in the future. This airport was built with the future in mind, not only for its runway, but passenger terminals, and baggage handling system.

Denver International Airport (KDEN), Colorado, USA

Denver has the longest runway in the Americas, 16R/34L, at 16,000ft / 4,877m. Given its elevation of 5,433ft / 1,655m above sea level, it’s no surprise that such a long runway is needed in order to handle passenger jets as large as the Airbus A380 double-decker.

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How is Runway Width Determined?

While there are no minimum or maximum runway width requirements, each airport has to provide enough tarmac to attract the size of aircraft they anticipate will be using the airport. The same holds true for the taxiways so that even the largest aircraft that may utilize the airport is also able to move around the field efficiently and without coming into contact with other aircraft, structures or ground vehicles.

The FAA has developed the ADG (Airplane Design Group) that uses an aircraft’s wingspan and tail height above ground to determine the runway width required for safe operation. There are six ADG categories with category I (100ft width or less), up to category VI (200ft).

ADG CategoryWingspanMin Runway Width
I<49ft / 15m100ft / 30m
II49ft – 79ft / 15m – 24m100ft / 30m
III79ft – 118ft / 24m – 36m100ft / 30m
IV118ft – 171ft / 36m – 52m150ft / 46m
V171ft – 214ft / 52m – 65m150ft / 46m
Vi214ft – 262ft / 65m – 80m200ft / 61m

With the exception of airports at high altitudes or with extreme weather conditions, a runway width of at least 100 feet is required to handle the Airbus A318, A319, A320, and A321, as well as various models of the Boeing 737.

An additional 50 feet is necessary for aircraft such as the Airbus A330, A340, and the Boeing 747, 757, and 767.

How Thick are Runways Built?

Depending on the expected weight of aircraft utilizing an airport, runways may be anywhere from 10 inches to as much as four feet thick, including the subgrade or formation level. Asphalt, concrete, or a combination of the two are the man-made components used to make runways.

For the most part, major international airports construct their runways from concrete, as it is more stable and durable, especially when the surface needs to withstand the weight of thousands of heavy aircraft operations over the years.

Smaller general aviation airports often utilize asphalt due to smaller, lighter aircraft operating there, and asphalt being less expensive to install.

Typical international airport runways are constructed in layers as follows:

  1. 12-inch soil and lime base is added to the existing soil
  2. Six inches of permeable asphalt for drainage
  3. Six inches of a denser asphalt base to provide a firm platform for the concrete to be poured on top
  4. 16-21 inches of poured concrete in 20 x 20-foot sections reinforced with Rebar.

Can You Build a Runway on Your Property?

If you have the land and the location fits the FAA’s rules and regulations, you can build a runway for personal use.

You can find the regulations pertaining to runway construction under FAR Part 157 and also FAA Forms 7480-1, Notice for Construction, Alteration, and Deactivation of Airports.

To construct your own runway you’ll need:

  • A minimum of one acre of land to accommodate a small general aviation aircraft
  • A mixture of topsoil, sand and gravel for the runway surface
  • Construction equipment to clear and level the land or, hire a competent construction company to do the job for you
  • The FAA stipulates that the runway must be at least 500 feet long and 50 feet wide
  • You must erect signage clearly indicating the existence of your airstrip
  • It must have a clear departure and approach path for you and any other pilots that may use the field.
  • Private airstrips may not be built for commercial purposes
  • The runway will need to be properly marked and lit, if to be used at night

You may even want to consider a grass strip as this really reduces the cost of building your own runway.

There may also be local zoning laws to follow, so be sure to obtain the necessary building permits and/or zoning approval from your local municipality. And just to play it safe, it is recommended that you contact the FAA directly to be absolutely certain you haven’t overlooked any of their very specific rules.

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Boeing 737-Max Lawsuits: All You Need to Know!

The Boeing 737 Max tragedies sparked an enormous amount of litigation. From criminal prosecutions and individual civil claims to class action lawsuits and shareholder proceedings, the legal fallout resulting from the 737 Max disasters has been colossal. 

As an former aviation lawyer, I was really interested to find out what happened with all the following legal proceedings and this is what I found. Below, I’ll outline what you need to know about the various Boeing 737 Max lawsuits that have emerged. Some have settled – and some are ongoing. 

What Happened with the Boeing 737 Max?

The Boeing 737 Max is the fourth generation of Boeing 737 aircraft, manufactured by U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing. It was designed to compete with the Airbus A320neo series and was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in March 2017.

However, the 737 Max quickly became associated with tragedy. In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 (a 737 Max 8) crashed into the Java Sea only 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 people onboard.  Less than 6 months later in March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (another 737 Max 8) crashed six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 people onboard.

Grounded B737 Max 8 Airplanes at Boeing’s WA Facility – Source: SounderBruce

Over 50 aviation authorities across the world grounded the aircraft and, by 18 March 2019, all 387 planes were taken out of the air amid concerns the aircraft had a fatal flaw in its design.

What Caused the Boeing 737 Max Crashes?

Investigations revealed that the fundamental problem with the 737 Max series was a failure in the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was a major contributor to both crashes.

The MCAS was originally designed as a stabilizing system for the aircraft. It would detect when the plane entered into a steep climb and then automatically ’tilt’ the aircraft nose back down to its regular angle of attack (AoA) to prevent the airplane from stalling.

The system was installed because the 737 Max relied on a new engine known as the LEAP-1Bs, which were much heavier than previously used engines. They were placed higher up on the aircraft wings so that they didn’t sit too close to the ground, resulting in the aircraft to ‘Pitch Nose Up’ when entering into a steep climb. MCAS was supposed to be the stabilizing solution to that issue.

However, the MCAS didn’t work the way it was supposed to – and under certain conditions uncontrollably dropped the nose of the aircraft and sent it into a dive.

In a surprising twist of events, it was later revealed that, before the Lion Air crash, information about MCAS was removed from the aircraft’s flight manual – meaning pilots didn’t know about it until the first fatal crash.

What Lawsuits Followed the Boeing 737 Max Accidents?

Litigation resulting from the 737 Max tragedy was both civil and criminal, with proceedings commenced by prosecutors, families of the victims, shareholders, and other companies who had a stake in the aircraft. 

Victims’ Families’ Civil Proceedings

There were at least 100 lawsuits filed against Boeing by the families of those who lost their lives in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters. These claims, broadly, alleged that the aircraft was unsafe and that Boeing were liable for damages.

The majority of these claims have now reached settlement – most, if not all, have confidential settlements. The first was reached in September 2019, when Boeing reportedly agreed to pay $1.2 million each to 11 families of victims of the Lion Air disaster. By July 2020, Boeing settled most of its Lion Air wrongful death lawsuits.

For some, despite the settlement, the heartache did not stop. One lawyer who represented a number of these families allegedly embezzled a large sum of the settlement for himself, leaving each of the families still owed around $500,000. Another law firm, completely unconnected to the proceedings, stepped in and paid these families their owed settlement, deciding to go after the rogue lawyer for themselves. 

The final substantial ‘batch’ of civil lawsuits against Boeing (which were brought by families of the Ethiopian Airlines victims) reached an agreement in November 2021.  The plane manufacturer admitted liability for compensatory damages, but avoided liability for punitive damages (that is, damages awarded as punishment, rather than as compensation).

The result was that families could sue Boeing for compensatory damages only – a significant outcome for Boeing that could considerably reduce a payout.

At the time of writing, a number of lawsuits are ongoing.

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Pilot Class Action

Boeing was also sued by over 400 pilots in a class action, who alleged that the 737 Max disasters were an “unprecedented cover-up”. This soon grew to 3,000 pilots from 12 international airlines. The pilots are reportedly seeking “as much as $368 million” in lost income and damages as a result of the 737 Max grounding.

Criminal Charges

After the two crashes, Boeing admitted to deceiving the FAA about the MCAS. This deception resulted in the FAA not publishing information about MCAS, meaning manuals and pilot materials for U.S.-based airlines simply did not have sufficient information about the system that would then contribute to two fatal crashes.

Boeing was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Documents had revealed that the 737 Max’s Chief Technical Pilot, Mark Forkner, told another pilot that MCAS was running “rampant” in a simulator. However, Mr Forkner had also told FAA officials that MCAS was safe. Another document even showed a Boeing employee saying that the 737 Max “is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys”.

Mr Forkner found himself in criminal trouble – charged with four counts of wire fraud for misleading the federal regulator. However, in March 2022, Mr Forkner was found not guilty. He was the only Boeing employee charged with a criminal offense over the 737 Max saga.

Agreement with U.S. Department of Justice

In January 2021, Boeing entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). As part of the agreement, the manufacturer agreed to pay a total of $2.5 billion, consisting of:

  • a criminal penalty of $243.6 million;
  • compensation payouts to airline customers in the amount of $1.77 billion; and
  • a $500 million fund to compensate relatives, heirs and beneficiaries of the passengers who lost their lives on the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights.

The settlement allows Boeing to avoid criminal prosecution – and was described as a “form of corporate plea bargain”. The full DPA is available for viewing online here.

As part of the $500 million fund, each eligible family is to receive approximately $1.45 million, with money being paid on a rolling basis when claims are submitted and resolved.

Family members of the victims filed a motion in a U.S. court in December 2021 arguing that the U.S. Government “violated their rights through a secret process”, asking that the judge declare that the DPA violated their rights.

In early 2022, the U.S. Government opposed the motion but apologized for not meeting with the victims’ beneficiaries. At the time of writing, this aspect of the Boeing 737 Max litigation is ongoing.

Shareholder Lawsuit against Boeing

Boeing shareholders commenced proceedings against the global aircraft manufacturer after the two fatal incidents. 

Two shareholders, public pension funds Thomas P. DiNapoli (New York State Comptroller, as trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund) and the Fire and Police Pension Association of Colorado, filed a derivative lawsuit against Boeing’s current and former directors.

They alleged that Boeing’s directors breached their fiduciary duties by “dismantling Boeing’s lauded safety-engineering corporate culture in favor of what became a financial-engineering corporate culture.” The two organizations, lead plaintiffs in their lawsuit, alleged Boeing’s directors failed to monitor safety so poorly, that it wasn’t even a topic in board meetings.

In November 2021, Boeing’s board of directors agreed to settle the claim for $237.5 million.

In a separate 2019 derivative shareholder class action filed in Illinois, the Seafarers Pension Plan alleged that Boeing board members and officers made false and misleading statements to the public about the 737 Max in proxy materials.

This lawsuit was originally dismissed, with a court finding that Boeing’s bylaws meant the company had a right to insist the claim be filed in Delaware. However, it was later revived in January 2022 when a U.S. appeals court decided it could go ahead.

Other Notable Lawsuits

This article does not attempt to outline every single claim brought against Boeing (nor is it able to). For example, there have also been commercial claims brought by other companies who had signed contracts to purchase the 737 Max. 

However, it should be noted that claims weren’t just brought against Boeing and its directors. Proceedings were brought against other parties too, including the FAA, Spirit AeroSystems (who manufacture aerostructures for Boeing) and even Southwest Airlines

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