Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Doing my part from seat 17C

Today, as the 757 I was aboard headed to Philadelphia was at the beginning of the runway readying for takeoff, I decided to put down the book I was reading and look out the window. I reached overhead and switched off my reading lamp. Coincidentally, just as I did this, the pilot applied the throttle for takeoff. The timing was nearly perfect, with the engines spinning up to full power just after I flipped the switch.

When I was six years old I would have immediately (though I didn't fly for the first time until I was fifteen) imagined that my switch-throwing initiated the takeoff. I suppose at that age, or at most a little younger, I would even have actually believed that the switch was connected to the engines. Adults do that sort of thing to children (to the children's great delight) all the time (reference the opening sequence of the Simpsons, where Maggie uses the car-seat mounted toy steering wheel and horn). We grow up and put such imagined cause and effect ideas away. But today, as a fully-fledged adult (by all external measures, at least...) I thought if perhaps sometimes some of those cause and effect fantasies might contain a shred of reality.

I propose the following, unencumbered by any actual knowledge of the systems involved (and knowing that at least one reader from Connecticut is indeed armed with that knowledge and might find the flaws in my conjecture):

1. The plane's lighting is powered by an on-board electrical system

2. That system produces power by an alternator (or generator) connected to one or more of the plane's jet engines

3. That alternator puts more load on the engine when the current draw is greater

4. My flicking the overhead lamp to the "off" position reduced the aircraft's overall current draw

5. A few milliamps less load lightened the alternator's drag on the engine(s)

6. At same throttle position, the plane had a miniscule fraction of an ounce more thrust (I would have said fraction of a gram to highlight how small of an amount, but I am anti-metric)

7. My action influenced the plane's takeoff.

Next, I will demonstrate how consumption of "Dubble Bubble" gum preserves the rainforests.


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