Plane Answers: Rudder pedals, window shades and a call out for an actress

Welcome to Gadling’s Friday 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!

Lee asks:

How is it that the plane stays straight as it’s accelerating down the runway? Is there an actual “steering wheel” of sorts that one of the pilots steers? If so, is it an “art” or talent of such to keep the airplane straight?

On the captain’s side of the airplane, next to his left knee is a ’tiller’ that helps him steer the airplane at slow speeds-anything less than 40 knots or so. The captain will steer the airplane onto the runway and once it’s aligned he’ll take his hand off the tiller. Either he or the co-pilot will then make the takeoff using their rudder pedals.

Unlike the pedals found in your car a car, the rudder pedals on an airplane do three things. They allow a pilot to steer on the ground left and right, turning the nosewheel up to six degrees either way at full deflection. They also control the rudder, which is most essential when flying on one engine when pilots need to counter the yaw associated with an engine failure, or when landing in a crosswind when pilots will use the rudder to align the airplane with the runway just before touching down.
757 Tiller:

The rudder pedals are also used to activate the hydraulic brakes by pressing on the top of each pedal. Left side has the left brake and the right side has the right.

While there may not be much ‘art’ to it, I enjoy trying to make frequent but tiny corrections while going down the runway since anyone sitting in the very back will feel each movement of the rudder. It’s also nice to avoid taking off directly down the center of the runway, since runway centerline lights are installed there which create a banging noise each time the nosewheel tire runs over them. So offsetting just a foot to the right or left is a common practice.

Robert asks:

I’ve noticed after takeoff when climbing (I’m always listening to make sure the engines are running) that the speed of the engines will slow down a little even though we haven’t reached are cruising altitude. Why?

Most airplanes have a limitation by the manufacturer for the takeoff power setting not to exceed five minutes. To make sure pilots don’t close in on that limitation, the procedure at almost every airport in the U.S. is to reduce the power at 1000 feet (1500 feet in Europe) by selecting ‘climb power’ which is slightly less thrust than takeoff power.

Some airports, most notably Orange County in Santa Ana, California have special procedures where the power must be reduced even more aggressively after takeoff as a way to ‘reduce the volume’ when flying over noise-sensitive residential areas.

Susan asks an unusual question:

While flying from Fresno to Dallas, the cockpit announced an actress’s name upon take off and landing. What’s that about?

I have no idea. Has anyone else out there heard this? You do have me curious though; which actress?

Roxanne wonders:

I fly a local airline inter-island in hawaii and to the west coast. On preparing for landing everyone is asked of course for seat to be put upright, tray tables closed and fastened, but they also ask that window shades be opened. Why? I couldn’t figure this one out.

Since it’s not a procedure at my airline, I can only guess the reason. Just as there are airlines that require cabin lighting to be dimmed during landing, perhaps the Hawaiian carrier wants to improve the flight attendant’s ability to assess any potential problems during or after landing. This requirement seems to be more common among non-U.S. carriers.

During a recent televised emergency landing of an MD-80, passengers were asked to lower their shades. I’ve never come up with a good reason for this, but I’m sure someone out there knows. Anyone?

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers feature.