Planes have changed a lot since the days of the Wright Brothers (or, perhaps more accurately, Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos). Those first wood-and-cloth contraptions are an entirely different species than the sleek Boeing Dreamliners of today.
With the continual advancements in aerospace technology, it’s hard to keep up with all the amazing things planes today are capable of doing (and withstanding). Below are 11 things you don’t know about airplanes and air travel.
Airplanes are designed to withstand lightning strikes
Planes are designed to be struck by lightning—and they regularly are hit. It’s estimated lightning strikes each aircraft once a year—or once per every 1,000 hours of flight time. Yet, lighting hasn’t brought down a plane since 1963, due to careful engineering that lets the electric charge of a lightning bolt run through the plane and out of it, typically without causing damage to the plane.
There is no safest seat on the plane
The FAA says there is no safest seat on the plane, though a TIME study of plane accidents found that the middle seats in the back of the plane had the lowest fatality rate in a crash. Their research revealed that, during plane crashes, “the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32 per cent fatality rate, compared with 39 per cent in the middle third and 38 per cent in the front third.”
However, there are so many variables at play that it’s impossible to know where to sit to survive a crash. Oh, and plane crashes are incredibly rare.
Some airplanes have secret bedrooms for flight crew
On long-haul flights, cabin crew can work 16-hour days. To help combat fatigue, some planes, like the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners, are outfitted with tiny bedrooms where the flight crew can get a little shut-eye. The bedrooms are typically accessed via a hidden staircase that leads up to a small, low-ceilinged room with 6 to 10 beds, a bathroom, and sometimes in-flight entertainment.
The tyres are designed not to pop on landing
The tyres on an airplane are designed to withstand incredible weight loads (38 tons!) and can hit the ground at 170 miles per hour more than 500 times before ever needing to get a retread. Additionally, airplane tyres are inflated to 200 psi, which is about six times the pressure used in a car tyre. If an airplane does need new tyres, ground crew simply jack up the plane like you would a car.
Why cabin crew dims the light when a plane is landing
When a plane lands at night, cabin crews will dim the interior lights. Why? In the unlikely event that the plane landing goes badly and passengers need to evacuate, their eyes will already be adjusted to the darkness. As pilot Chris Cooke explained to T+L: “Imagine being in an unfamiliar bright room filled with obstacles when someone turns off the lights and asks you to exit quickly.”
Similarly, flight attendants have passengers raise their window shades during landing, so they can see outside in an emergency and assess if one side of the plane is better for an evacuation.
You don’t need both engines to fly
The idea of an engine giving out mid-flight sounds frightening, but every commercial airplane can safely fly with just one engine. Operating with half the engine power can make a plane less fuel-efficient and may reduce its range, but planes are designed and tested for such situations, as Popular Mechanics reported. Any plane scheduled on a long-distance route, especially those that fly over oceans or through uninhabited areas like the Arctic, must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Extended-range Twin Operations (ETOPS), which is basically how long it can fly with one engine. The Boeing Dreamliner is certified for ETOPS-330, which means it can fly for 330 minutes (that’s five and a half hours) with just one engine.
In fact, most airplanes can fly for a surprisingly long distance with no engine at all, thanks to something called glide ratio. Due to careful aeronautical engineering, a Boeing 747 can glide for two miles for every 1,000 feet they are above the ground, which is usually more than enough time to get everyone safely to the ground.
To be continued