Why Planes Can’t Reverse

Why Planes Can’t Reverse


I was flying to San Diego the other day, and
after having nestled into my window seat, I started to watch the other airplanes taxiing
around. And suddenly, I realized that I’d never seen
a single plane moving backward on it’s own . So, the question was, “Can airplanes actually
move in reverse?” Despite what many people think, moving backward
isn’t entirely impossible for an aircraft (of course if we talk about traveling on the
ground). It’s another matter that they never do. Some planes can perform a so-called “powerback,”
which is the very thing that makes it move in reverse. In this case, a plane’s jet engines direct
the thrust forward instead of backward. Jet airplanes can use the reverse thrust if
they need to brake as fast as possible after the touchdown, or when they need to make an
emergency stop. But in Europe, mostly smaller aircraft with
propellers tend to use the reverse thrust method to go backward, while in the US, even
larger jets can sometimes perform powerbacks. Anyway, if planes can potentially taxi backward,
why don’t they? Apparently, for several good reasons. First, the reverse thrust takes a lot of effort
(and I mean it!). As a result, the noise produced in the process
is literally deafening. Secondly, an engine running at full reverse
thrust is a serious safety risk. Powerful airstreams propel debris lifted from
the ground at an incredible speed. Small metal objects are the most dangerous
among them because they can crack terminal windows, hurt ground personnel, and even hit
the fuselage of the plane itself. On top of that, to make the reverse thrust
as effective as possible, the plane’s engines must work at full blast. But in this case, they spend much more fuel
than usual; and more fuel means more money. Way more money. Also, when the plane uses the reverse engine
thrust, it produces too much CO2, also known as carbon dioxide gas. And this gas is one of the main culprits when
it comes to global warming and air pollution. Steps are currently being taken to reduce
these CO2 emissions; so doing anything that increases them would be counterintuitive. And finally, when a pilot applies the brakes
while moving backward, it can potentially cause a tailstrike. In this case, the tail of the aircraft hits
the ground or some other solid object. And even if this accident seems to be minor
and non-dangerous, it can still cause some hidden damage to the plane. That’s why, after any tailstrike, aircraft
get thoroughly inspected and repaired to prevent more serious accidents from happening in the
future. So, theoretically, when taxiing, some planes
can move backward. But can they fly in reverse? Well, most experts are surprisingly unanimous
when responding to this question, and their answer is a firm “no.” The reason is the way the airplane wings work. Usually, they produce just enough lift to
keep the aircraft in the air. Start moving backward – and the plane will
plummet from the sky like a rock. On the other hand, there’s one exception
to the “no-flying backward” rule. If the wind is extremely strong, and the plane’s
flying at its minimum speed (which is also slower than that of the wind), the aircraft
will be moving backward relative to the ground. But mind you, the plane still believes it’s
flying forward since its speed is enough to keep it in the air. Right, now I understand why airplanes can’t
move backward. But there are a few other questions that I’ve
always had regarding aircraft, like: can planes fly right into space? Could they replace rockets one day? Impossible. At first sight, you might think that air isn’t
a real substance since you can’t see it. But with a powerful wind blowing, you can’t
mistake its presence anymore. In fact, it turns into the very thing that
keeps planes aloft. But let’s see what happens when it comes to
space. The higher you go, the thinner the air becomes,
until there’s hardly any air at all. This means that neither large wings with a
clever shape, nor powerful engines, will help a plane to climb very high anywhere near the
vacuum of space. So, yes, unfortunately, we do still need those
rockets to get into space. You might know that while flying, planes emit
insane amounts of CO2. But nowadays, we have electric cars that seem
to be much more eco-friendly. Then, isn’t it possible to create electric
airplanes? Well, it’s all about the amount of energy
an on-board battery can store. Unfortunately, even the best one is still
40 times less efficient than jet fuel. But if batteries get redesigned to store more
energy, they’d be way too heavy! And when it comes to airplanes, the amount
of weight they carry is of the utmost importance. That’s why, at this moment, passenger airliners
keep using good old jet fuel. Do you think electric airplanes will appear
any time soon? Let me know your opinion in the comment section
below! Also, why can’t planes take off when the weather
is too hot? Do their engines overheat and start to malfunction? It turns out that’s not actually the reason
at all! The problem with extremely hot temperatures
is that planes can’t generate enough lift to get into the air! And if there’s no lift, there’s no flight. To generate this lift, the air around the
plane has to be dense enough. But once the temperature rises, air molecules
start to spread, which results in low air density. The wings won’t have enough “stuff” to push
against, and will be unable to produce the necessary lift. Case solved. My next “can-airplanes” question went like,
“are aircraft able to fly through hurricanes?”. I was astounded to learn that hurricanes were
not as disruptive to flights as thunderstorms! Why not? After all, hurricanes are massive! They spread for hundreds of miles, and their
effects can linger for days afterward! The thing is that most hurricanes form at
a much lower altitude than thunderstorms. As a result, a plane can easily fly over parts
of a hurricane. Naturally, no commercial airliner will ever
fly through the eyewall of a hurricane, where the weather is the most severe, and the winds
are the most forceful. But flying further away from the center of
a hurricane presents no danger to planes, mostly because they travel over the top of
it. As for a thunderstorm, it can create a gigantic
cloud structure with the top reaching more than 60,000 ft! That’s way higher than the average cruising
altitude of commercial planes, which is about 35,000 ft. That’s why, when an airplane comes across
a thunderstorm, pilots must either find a way to go around it or simply turn back. Ok, but what about flying through tornadoes? Can planes perform such a feat? Absolutely not. The destructive combo of a tornado’s forward
motion, the tons of debris caught in the process, and the super high rotating wind speed would
destroy any aircraft the tornado meets on its way. That’s why pilots try not to get any closer
than 20 miles away from a tornado. As for flying over a tornado, it can turn
out to be just as dangerous because the effects of this natural phenomenon can go well beyond
the plane’s maximum cruising altitude. A hailstorm is also not something you’d
want to fly into while sitting on a plane at a high altitude. The consequences of such an encounter won’t
be too dramatic, but the plane would most likely be damaged. If the hailstones are large, they could even
destroy the plane’s engines and cause a forced landing. Unfortunately, it’s hard to detect a hailstorm
until you run straight into it. On top of that, hailstones can be caught in
an updraft and thrown dozens of miles up above the top of the storm. Even an airplane cruising well above the storm
can be hit by hail. And then, the damage can vary from broken
windshields to ruined engines. Bottom Line: When weather systems (you know,
snow rain and ice) get together for a party, Hail is normally late to the shindig. So when they finally show up, the others sing
“Hail, Hail the gang’s all here…) Hey, if you learned something new today, then
give the video a like and share it with a friend! And here are some other videos I think you’ll
enjoy. Just click to the left or right, and stay
on the Bright Side of life!

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