A Personal Flying First

I should really sit down and work it out properly, but I probably have something of the order of 1,000 flying hours in aircraft of various kinds, from gliders and other light aircraft to wide-body airliners. Yesterday, though, marked a definite first: my first rear-facing flight!

Rear-facing seats are substantially safer than front-facing ones in accident scenarios, as The Economist sharply noted in this article on “Veritas Airways”, but tend to unnerve many people. Hence, they’re favoured in military transports (in which the passengers are somewhat more sanguine) but frowned upon in the civilian world; they’re largely restricted to the exotic seating arrangements of first- and business-class cabins. Happy circumstance promoted me to the luxury half of the plane yesterday, so here goes…

Taxi and Takeoff. Taxiing didn’t feel especially strange, but the rear-facing takeoff definitely felt weird. The sensation of increased thrust making one lighter in one’s seat is totally counter to all previous experience. That odd sensation starts as soon as the pilot opens up the throttles for takeoff, and continues through the climb to ~5,000 feet.

In Flight. Once in level flight, the sensations of flying forward and backwards are basically indistinguishable. This flight was one of those great ones where there was just enough cloud at the right altitude relative to the plane for me to really appreciate the 1,000 km/h speed of the flight, and it was glorious. It made me wonder what proportion of the human race has sampled the joy of flight.

We had a warning of clear air turbulence near Winnipeg; not only were passengers told to return to their seats and buckle up, but the crew were told to do the same. CAT can be nasty stuff, and indeed caused some serious injuries on United 935 in May 2010 when it flew into an unexpected (they don’t call it clear air turbulence for nothing) patch of turbulence while many passengers and crew were moving about the cabin.

Landing. In contrast to takeoff, the unusual sensations on landing were solely on the ground. The approach felt normal, which is probably an indication of how closely the angle of attack matches the effective horizontal (the perpendicular to gravity plus other accelerations). The deceleration on the ground, though, felt distinctly different, as I was pressed back in my seat — which was, I admit, more comfortable than being pulled out of it.

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