Cockpit Confidential

ISBN: 9781402280917

By: Patrick Smith

Published: 05/07/2013

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A New York Times bestseller

For millions of people, travel by air is a confounding, uncomfortable, and even fearful experience. Patrick Smith, airline pilot and author of the web's popular Ask the Pilot feature, separates the fact from fallacy and tells you everything you need to know...

•How planes fly, and a revealing look at the men and women who fly them
•Straight talk on turbulence, pilot training, and safety
•The real story on congestion, delays, and the dysfunction of the modern airport
•The myths and misconceptions of cabin air and cockpit automation
•Terrorism in perspective, and a provocative look at security
•Airfares, seating woes, and the pitfalls of airline customer service
•The colors and cultures of the airlines we love to hate

Cockpit Confidential covers not only the nuts and bolts of flying, but also the grand theater of air travel, from airport architecture to inflight service to the excitement of travel abroad. It's a thoughtful, funny, at times deeply personal look into the strange and misunderstood world of commercial flying.

It’s the ideal book for frequent flyers, nervous passengers, and global travelers.

Refreshed and vastly expanded from the original Ask the Pilot, with approximately 75 percent new material.


Table of Contents


Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Painter’s Brush

1. Plane Truth: Things about Wings and Why Knots

Airfoiled: how huge airplanes stay aloft • But isn’t it more complicated? • On speed: what the hell is a knot? • A primer on parts • What are those upturned wingtips for? • What are those canoe-shaped pods under the wings? • Can a jetliner perform aerobatics? • How does a jet engine work? • What’s a turboprop? • What is that hole under the tail? • Do planes run their engines at the gate? • How much does a jetliner cost? • Boeing v. Airbus: which is better and safer? • Which planes will get me there fastest? • Which have the longest range? • How much does a jetliner weigh? • When it’s “too hot to fly” • Contrails • Air travel and the environment

The Airplane in Art, Music, and Film

2. Elements of Unease: Turbulence, Windshear, Weather, and Worry

High Art: History, Hype, and the World’s Biggest Planes

What Plane Is That? An Airfleets Primer

Turbulence: everything you need to know • Wake turbulence • What’s that trail of mist coming from the wing? • What is windshear? • Engine stalls • Can we glide to a landing? • Pressurization: facts and fallacies • Regional jets: are they safe? • How much fuel is on board? • Why and when do pilots jettison fuel? • Lightning: facts and fallacies • Oh my god, there’s duct tape on my plane • Air traffic: how close is too close? • When metal meets feather • Icing and deicing • The truth about toilet water • Broken parts and maintenance protocols • Preflight inspections • Geriatric jets

Revere Reverie: A Hometown Memoir

3. What Goes Up…: Takeoffs, Landings, and the Mysterious Between

What’s the Matter with Airports?

Preflight preparations • Why do planes take off into the wind? • Why do we bounce, bump, and jig during climb? • Engine failure on takeoff • The climbout cutback • How fast are we going at takeoff and touchdown? • Runway numbers • Challenging airports • Aborted landings: everything you need to know • Instrument approaches • Why do some pilots land more smoothly than others? • Reverse thrust • What’s that sudden roar all about? • The nuts and bolts of weather delays • Four bad ideas to fix congestion • An ATC primer: how pilots communicate en route • Navigation basics: BLOWN, BAABY, and LAYED • Why do flights to Europe travel so far north? • FUK, DAM, HEL: those mysterious airport codes

4. Flying for a Living: The Awe and Odd of a Life Aloft

The Right Seat: Propellers, Polyester, and Other Memories

Captain, copilot, first officer? Who are these people? • Becoming an airline pilot • Training: everything you need to know • Pilot salaries, truth and fiction • The seniority system blues • Pilot shortage: the real story • A pilot’s schedule, and the cross-country shuffle • This is your captain sleeping: the menace of fatigue • Regional pilots: are they safe? • Women and minorities • The truth about cockpit automation • How passengers can (or can’t) gauge a pilot’s skill • Captain Sully: heroics or hype? • Pilots and alcohol • Those fancy watches and mysterious black bags • Cockpit cuisine: first class fare and ramen noodles • Flying naked? • Globetrodden: pilot perks, and the yin and yang of travel

Accommodations: On the Road with Patrick Smith

5. En Route: Life in the Cabin

North Latitude: Fear and Loathing on the High Atlantic

Window shades, tray tables, and seat backs • The barking dog: strange noises on the Airbus • The facts and fallacies of cabin air • Do pilots tinker with the oxygen levels? • Overheated cabins and those hot, stuffy takeoffs • Opening an exit during flight • Why are the windows so small? • The glorious glory • Dogs and cats below • The story on cell phones and PEDs • Those damn dings • Listening in on cockpit chatter • Public address madness and the babble of the safety briefing • Class struggles: first, business, economy, and beyond • The trials and tribulations of boarding, and how to make it better • A round of applause

Looking Out: Memorable Views from Aloft

6. …Must Come Down: Disasters, Mishaps, and Fatuous Flights of Fancy

Terminal Madness: What Is Airport Security?

The Ten Deadliest Air Disasters of All Time

Terrorism perspective: the golden age of air crimes • Fear and reason: encouragement for nervous flyers • What pilots dread • Emergencies, real and imagined • Where airlines fear to tread • The ten worst disasters of all time • Foreign airline safety • The myth of the Immaculate Qantas • Budget carrier safety • Flight and punishment • Exploding tires and other nightmares • Could a nonpilot land a jetliner? • Parachutes for passengers? • The truth about midair collisions • Runway congestion: cause for alarm? • The legacy of September 11 • The folly of a barricaded cockpit • Shoulder-fired missiles • “Soft walls” and other hooey • Conspiracy Nation

We Gaan: The Horror and Absurdity of History’s Worst Plane Crash

7. The Airlines We Love to Hate

The Yin and Yang of Airline Identity

Service woes: taking on the world • Why are airlines such terrible communicators? • Which are the largest carriers? • The upside for consumers: routes and fares • Airfares à la carte: the pros and cons of unbundling • Tarmac delays and the “Passenger Bill of Rights” • The magic mojo of Southwest Airlines • Which are the oldest airlines? • Code-share confusion • Where do flight numbers come from? • Red-eye rationale: why do flights to Europe always go at night? • Size matters: big planes on short hauls • The longest hauls • The poetry of airliner names

How to Speak Airline: A Glossary for Travelers

About the Author



The Painter’s Brush

More than ever, air travel is a focus of curiosity, intrigue, anxiety, and anger. In the chapters that follow I will do my best to


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“Smith wants you to close your tray table, lift the shade, and enjoy what you’re experiencing. And stop worrying. ” - Air & Space - Smithsonian Magazine...

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Format: Paperback

Length: 8.5 in
Width: 5.5 in
Weight: 12.96 oz
Page Count: 320 pages


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