If a nation’s size – and we’d be talking city states in some instances here – was based on the distance from its airport to the next nearest one, this is how the globe would look… by London based data visualisation consultant Jason Davies.
I used to fly aircraft, in my academy days so to speak, and can appreciate a certain artistic merit in the design of airports and, in particular, runways, but often times their aesthetic qualities can only be perceived at altitude.
These are some of the sentiments that inspired New York City based art director and graphic designer Lauren O’Neill’s Holding Pattern project, a collection of satellite images, gleaned from Google Earth, of airports and their runways, from across the globe.
I flew small aircraft, really small aircraft, for a couple years once, and if you asked me what the single hardest aspect of flying was, I’d tell you it was landing. As long as you have your wits about you, taking off and cruising are relatively straightforward processes. Almost like driving a car.
When it comes to landing you really have to get a number of things right, and all at the same time. In most cases though you have a nice wide, and long, runway to bring the aircraft down onto. But what about trying to land on an aircraft carrier? That would present a few more challenges, would it not?
You catch sight of the carrier over 20 miles out through a light haze. Even after several years, it still stirs an emotional response. The thing is so big… and so small. It’s big when you have to clean it or paint it, but small if you have a rumor or need to land on it. You’re about 10 minutes prior to your Charlie time (when your hook should be crossing the ramp) and you’ve checked in with the group’s air defense ship. You’re coming down to your marshaling altitude before you pop the 10 nautical mile bubble, so you minimize your chances of swapping paint with someone. Your wingman is now in tight formation, so he’s not helping you look around to clear the airspace. You’re essentially flying both planes, so your head is on a swivel. If you see another aircraft at the last second, you can certainly jerk away to avoid it, but you’re just going to send your wing man to his death, so “vigilance” isn’t just a noun.
It may take investigators years to fully understand the tragic fate that befell Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, wreckage of which is believed to have been found in the Southern Indian Ocean. Locating the aircraft’s flight recorder, or black box, will be crucial in this regard, but to date there is no indication as to its whereabouts.
It’s tempting, in the age of streaming data, to call this an archaic, obsolete system – after all, there are better ways of recording and accessing flight data – but they face staggering problems in practice. After an Air France crash in 2009, for example, it took investigators two years to recover the black box. French safety officials drew up recommendations afterward to improve the flight recorders, and the FAA followed suit. Those recommendations included features such as adding a mechanism to catapult a black box into the air when it hit water, and tripling the battery life of the underwater locator beacons to 90 days. Air France incorporated such technologies into its airplanes, but U.S. airlines are lagging behind on the new regulations. Financial hurdles are the most notorious reason for an increasingly parsimonious airline industry. “As with everything, you know the money is always going to be an issue,” Brickhouse says.
Some pilots will tell you the hardest part of flying an aircraft is landing it. Clearly though that doesn’t bother this flyer, who has no qualms landing his craft on… the ridge of a mountain, in this instance Bunker Hill, part of Toiyabe Range, situated in the US state of Nevada.
Note how he lands the aeroplane into an uphill slope on the mountain, and then takes off by taxiing on a downward slope. One of the better ways to get on, and off, a mountain though, if you ask me.
It’s a comfort to know an aircraft the size of an Airbus A380, that potentially seats 850 people, in an all-economy class configuration, across two decks spanning the entire length of its fuselage, can be completely deplaned in less than ninety seconds, in the event of an emergency.
Here’s hoping the only time you witness such an exercise is while watching this demonstration.
November 435 Sierra Romeo is cleared to Bravo Tango Victor airport, via: On entering controlled airspace, expect radar vectors to Westminster VOR. Then Victor 457 to Lancaster VOR, Victor 39 to East Texas VOR Echo-Tango-Xray, Victor 162 to Huguenot VOR Hotel-Uniform-Oscar, then as filed. Climb and maintain three thousand feet, expect five thousand feet ten minutes after departure. Departure frequency 128.7, squawk four-six-three-five.
Yep, that sounds a lot like the way I used to speak during my academy, or buzzing over the country side in a Cessna, days.
Airports are not enjoyable places to be. Long distance travel is not a tonne of fun. Badly designed boarding passes are annoying. Seriously annoying. The boarding pass is essential for air travel but when badly designed, must be one of the most counter-productive items an airline could issue. I think they cause headaches for airline and airport staff and travellers alike. Travellers are often stressed, emotional, groggy, jet lagged or a toxic mix of all four. The thought of having to decode a rubix-cube-puzzle of crucial information in that state makes me want to just give up.