Ask the Captain: Quirky questions about aviation

Question: What factors made us decide to universally disembark from the left (port) side of an aircraft and not from the right?

— Bobby, Pittsburgh

Answer: The right side of the airplane is where much of the servicing is done. It is easier and safer to keep the passengers on the other side of the airplane from the fuel truck, baggage tugs and carts and catering trucks. Jet bridges block access to part of the airplane and would slow servicing if they were attached on the right side.

Q: Traveling well over 500 mph, how do the windshield wipers on commercial aircraft not get ripped off in flight?

— Marcus Warren, Cypress, Texas

A: Good question. The airflow around the windshield is designed to be less than on other parts of the airplane. Air flows around the nose and over the top of the windshield, causing an “eddy.” This eddy is lower pressure at a lower velocity than the air flowing over the nose.

The short answer to your question is that the airplane designers manipulate the airflow in a way that allows slower air around the windshield and wipers. They are very smart people.

Q: Based on the design of a wing, how do planes fly upside-down?          

— Paul Samels, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

A: They increase the angle of attack until the inverted airfoil will create enough lift. Airplanes that are designed for inverted flight have wings that create lift right side up or inverted.

Q: What type of sunglasses do you wear on bright days? Do you use polarized, or does that make it difficult to read the instrumentation?

A: I do not use polarized sunglasses because they can make it difficult to see through the windshield. This is because of the multiple panes in the windshield. Over the years I found that many different sunglasses worked well, but Serengeti Drivers were my top choice.

Q: Is there a "new plane smell" similar to a new car smell? 

— Vinnie K., Ohio

A: Yes, a new airplane has a wonderful smell similar to a new car.

Have a question about flying? Send it to travel@usatoday.com.


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