Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review of the presentation by Nicholas Hartmann, ST-4 “An Introduction to Aviation and Air Travel”

Nicholas Hartmann’s presentation on aviation and air travel was the very first SciTech session I attended at my very first ATA conference. As a pink-ribboned newbie, I did not quite know what to expect. Actually, I was afraid to be overloaded with dry terminology and vocabulary. I could not have been more wrong!

Nick explained the physical principles of flight, something I personally could relate to, and then went on to explain the inner workings of an aircraft. He answered one of the issues I had worried about every time I boarded a plane, namely, how the wings could be attached well enough to the main body of the aircraft to withstand all the forces they are subjected to in flight. The answer, as Nick explained, is of course that there is only one big wing, which is intertwined with the fuselage such that it doesn’t break off. I also learned that the seemingly sagging wing (singular!) of a plane that is just about to take off is nothing to worry about, because the sagging is due to the fuel that is partly stored in the wing.

Just as the flight-phobic part of the audience (me) was feeling reassured about the safety of air travel, he showed some terrifying landing strips next to mile-high walls of rock. After I made a mental note of never booking a flight to anywhere near these locations, the pictures of too short landing strips next to sunbathing beach-bodies and downhill skiers became funny. He then proceeded to “translate” the various cryptic symbols one encounters on the runway into plain English, before getting into the nitty-gritty of the inner workings of airplane engines, especially modern jet engines. I can’t do the humor Nick injected here justice: he illustrated this with a toy pinwheel and a toy fan. It was a hilarious and at the same time an instructive and illuminating explanation of an engineering principle.

In summary, while I’m still not a fan of flying after Nick’s very clear talk with just the right amount of geeky humor, I now understand the underlying structures and principles much better and won’t be quite so apprehensive the next time I board a plane. Unless I see the numbers in the square signs next to the runway go from 3 to 2 to 1… (These numbers denote the distance to go till the end of the runway in thousands of feet.)

Written by: 

Carola F. Berger
spacerCarola F. Berger was a researcher in theoretical particle physics for over a decade before becoming a freelance English>German translator and consultant. She has a Diplom-Ingenieur der Technischen Physik in engineering physics from the TU Graz, Austria, and a PhD in theoretical physics from Stony Brook University (Fulbright Scholar). She was a researcher at the INFN Torino, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also conducted research visits in North America, Europe, and Russia before settling down in California as a translator specializing in technical and scientific texts.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this great review, Carola. I attended that session and think you captured it very well. Nick's object lessons were so fun.


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