Plane Answers: Radio altimeters, 737 rudder safety and 757/767 flying differences

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Martin asks:

Upon landing a bigger plane…

Is there a sensor or gauge/indicator that shows the pilot the distance between the airplane’s wheels and the runway?
Yes, Martin, there is. As I’m sure you know, we have an altimeter that displays our height above sea level. But we also have a radio altimeter that shows our height above the ground from 2500 feet all the way down to zero feet. It’s actually very accurate, and we often judge our flare based on the automated call outs of “100, 50, 40, 30, 20, and 10.

It also displays our altitude in feet on our primary flight display. Occasionally the other pilot (who’s not flying) might add a call out of 6, or 2, if you’ve flared and you’re no longer descending, which can be helpful.

Long wonders:

Hi Kent, The only hassle I hate while traveling is the paperwork for the visa. I was wondering whether pilots require a visa to fly to certain countries? Does the airline take care of it, or do you guys have some sort of special permit/passport?

I can only speak for those of us flying from the U.S., and since I don’t fly to every country, I don’t know all the specifics, but the most common country we fly to that requires a VISA in our passports is France. This allows us to ‘work’ in their country.

Every five years we have to go into a major city that has a French Consulate and fill out the paperwork and turn over our passports to have a VISA stamp inserted.

I’m sure there are other countries that require this, but France is the only one I’m aware of at this point.

Tev asks:

Does the 737 still have rudder issues?

Tev is referring to the full deflection rudder issues that United and USAir experienced years ago with 737-200 and 737-300. Boeing came up with a fix for the problem and they claim that the new generation 737s, which are the most common 737s flying today, do not have the same issues. Given the number of hours that these new generation 737s have flown, it appears they have the problem solved.

Finally, Vic asks:

Kent, you wrote earlier about preferring to fly the 767 over the 757. One reason was greater familiarity with the 767. What are the other reasons?

Actually Vic, I fly the 757 probably 90 percent of the time. So I’m really more familiar with the 757. Perhaps it’s because I only get a chance to see a 767 infrequently, that I enjoy that airplane.

As you’re probably aware, the 757 and 767 are unique in that pilots can be trained to fly both airplanes interchangeably. We occasionally have a trip that will have a leg with a 757, followed by a wide-body 767 flight right afterwards.

SInce the cockpits of the two airplanes are nearly identical, and the systems (the hydraulics, the fuel system, engines, air conditioning and pressurization) are very similar, the FAA determined in the 80’s when both airplanes were certified that they would share a common type rating.

But they don’t fly exactly the same. The 767 is more light and sensitive on the controls, and it tends to feel larger, but more sporty. The 757 has great climb performance, but it’s controls are heavier and you sit lower to the ground, which makes for a different ‘feel’ during the landing flare.

It’s probably easier to make a smoother landing in the 767, even though we don’t fly them as often. They seem to settle to the ground after touching down with less momentum. It’s a beautiful airplane to fly, and it is closer in feel to a 777 than it is to a 757.

But as I’ve explained in a recent Cockpit Chronicles, the winglets that are being installed on the 757 have somehow softened the landings.

Have a question of your own that you’d like answered on Friday’s Plane Answers? Ask Kent!