Flying is like sailing – sailing

Flying and sailing seem like two completely different things. Once in the air, however, one notices that there are remarkably many similarities.

Melanie de Vries is a KLM pilot and CWO yacht sailing instructor. She is not the only pilot with a passion for sailing, many other pilots are also sailing enthusiasts. Chance? “The perfectionism needed to sail optimally with a sailboat fits into the passion for detail that many pilots have.” she tells. Moreover, there is a logical connection. “Aviation developed from shipping, you can feel it in everything,” she explains. What do you recognize as a sailor when you board a plane?

How to trim an air wing?

A flying wing is obviously not a sail, let’s put it first. A piece of fabric is much more flexible and offers many more trimming options than a flying wing. But the aerodynamic mindset behind it is the same. “Terms and principles such as torques and forces, lift and bearing surface are different nature for us.” says DeVries.

Both when flying and sailing, you want the air to flow efficiently along the material and keep the speed of the vehicle. To create the optimal shape of the wing, you can determine the curvature of the wing with flaps. In addition, you can actively adjust the tail of the aircraft and push the nose of the aircraft up or down. Just as a sail can clap, a flying wing can ‘tuck’ with the wrong wing position. An airplane then loses its lift, causing it to sink. You want to prevent this. Of course, this is the last thing you want to dive! ” explains Melanie.

Flywinge (c) pixahive, CC 0

Trip planning

Planning a flight is a lot like planning a boat trip. “Before you fly, make an itinerary. For example, you look at the weather, port of departure, port of arrival and possible alternative ports. When flying, only the local conditions mean much less. You will not be bothered by annoying locks, islands or coral reefs. No matter how hard the wind blows, you just walk. I once had 200 knots of wind. A plane can take a lot and in the cockpit it is nice and warm and dry. But before a storm cloud we fly over! ” says DeVries.

May day in the clouds

In aviation, you communicate verbally via radio frequencies. You use the same terms and principles as when communicating over VHF radio. “So you can also call Mayday over the radio in case of an emergency,” she continues, “Frequency 121.5 in aviation is channel 16 for shipping.” But when you fly, communication is much freer. “Despite being used to radio communication in the cockpit, the VHF exam was pretty tough with such a tight format.” says DeVries.

Moreover, the radio is not the only instrument known to sailors. Instruments such as the compass and GPS are also widely used in both vessels. “The navigation part can be taken over one-on-one.” she says. We measure in nautical miles, speed is expressed in knots and height in feet.

GPS, compass and other instruments in the cockpit

Flying over the water

Many of the original sailing techniques have gone their own ways in air traffic. It is now noteworthy that some techniques are finding their way back to shipping. For example, more and more advanced wing designs for sails are popping up and today we are almost flying over the water using foils and hard sails.

America’s Cup foil boats (c) flickr, CC BY 2.0

Aircraft are becoming more and more efficient, but more sustainable alternatives are also being looked at. “The future may well lie in using yacht design for transportation,” Melanie speculates.

The traces of shipping can therefore still be easily found in aviation. From fluid mechanics to aviation communication, there are still many similarities. In addition, there is a lot of exchange between the techniques in both sectors.

Cover photo (c) pxhere, CC0 Public Domain

Last modified: June 2, 2022

Leave a Comment