What’s the Vector, Victor?

Following on from Sunday’s post about the trials and tribulations caused by Storm Dennis, here is a clip of a plane (an Airbus 380)  landing at Heathrow airport on Saturday.

There are other clips of this same event on Youtube and some of them describe this landing as `dangerous’. Although it undoubtedly involved skill and concentration by the pilot it’s not actually dangerous. Aircrew are trained to land in windy weather like this, and it’s fairly routine. My plane to Dublin (an Airbus 320) landed like this on Saturday evening and, although the pilot got a well-deserved round of applause on landing, nobody was ever really at risk.

As it happens, this week I start teaching vector algebra to my first-year Engineering students, so the weekend’s weather events have  given me a good illustration of vector addition. The plane has to have a velocity vector relative to the air such that the sum of it and the wind vector adds to a resultant vector directed along the runway. Lots of people seem to think this is just guesswork but it isn’t. It’s applied mathematics.

This is in principle simple as long as the crosswind is steady, but obviously the pilot needs to be alert to gusting and make adjustments along the way. When the plane has slowed down enough to land in normal conditions, the wind over the wings is still causing a bit of extra lift. You can see that in the last moments before touchdown this aircraft is gliding because of this effect. I’m told that because of this, in windy conditions planes usually descend at a steeper angle than usual.

The interesting bit for me is that the plane touches down in such a way that its body is at an angle to the runway. As soon as it has landed it has to correct this and point along the runway. I think this is done with the rudder rather than the undercarriage, but I don’t know. Perhaps any experienced pilots that happen to be reading this could give more details through the comments box?

P.S. The title of this post is a reference to the film Airplane!

 

4 Responses to “What’s the Vector, Victor?”

  1. The thing I think is neat (and might not be true… but sounds plausible to me…) is that just after wheels touchdown, you see flaps on the wings rise up. This is not to slow down, but to remove any lift generation so that the full weight of the aircraft is restored and the brakes can be effective.

  2. Q: Give an example of a vector.

    A: The north start.

    Q: Why?

    A: Because it has a magnitude, and a direction.

    Guess which famous astrophysicist used this example in a talk about teaching.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: