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Home > Fear of Flying > Do things get weaker as they get bigger?
Do things get weaker as they get bigger?
Flying - Fear of Flying
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 07:03
Hi Capt Lim,

Just a quick note of thanks as much as a question. Actually it's a very long note!

Your website has calmed my major fear, which was concern over the structural strength of the aircraft during heavy turbulence.

Ironically I am less afraid in smaller aircraft, as I find it easier to believe they are simply bouncing over choppy air like a car over a rough road and can easily withstand such impacts and jolts. When it comes to the huge Airbus and Boeing liners I find it harder to understand how anything of such sheer size can withstand such stresses.

Take a short plank of wood, for example 1/2 inch thick, 6 inches wide and 3 feet long; it's pretty strong and you could stand on it without breaking it. Make the same plank 20 feet long and it could break under its own weight if held at one end. That aspect, that things get weaker as they get bigger, is what scares me. Far from feeling reassured that I'm in a big safe aircraft, I worry that the thing is just too big to have any real strength in reserve.

Overall your site has calmed my fears considerably. I have a suggestion though - stop mentioning the strength of the 777, as most people will be on something else and few ever get any choice over which model of plane they will be on. When I book a flight I can specify what date, even morning or evening - but not the make and model of aircraft! Tell me how tough the 737 is, not the 777 ;o)

Again I tend not to worry too much about the swooping down or swooping up aspects of turbulence - I know the craft could create such forces with its control surfaces if the pilot told it to. What concern me much more are the hard violent jolts and thumps, as though hitting large potholes at speed. Put it this way, if my 4x4 hit bumps that hard I'd slow right down to a crawl. I know aircraft can't do that but with every such blow I find myself listening for the sound of cracking or splintering, with the words "metal fatigue" buzzing through my head. If my car suffered such blows I'd worry about damage to the structure or suspension, perhaps a blown tire...

Just how much abuse can a large flappy sheet of aluminum take?

And yes, the "falling through the floor" thing used to get to me, especially during turns. Sure, I had a seatbelt but suppose the whole chair fell off and ripped through that flimsy side? Peering out the window at the ground 3,000ft below with nothing between me and a 3,000 feet drop being a sheet of bent alloy and some seat fastenings is unnerving to say the least.

Today, I'm not sure how it changed, I'm confident I won't fall through the superstructure. That the whole plane could collapse and fold up still bothers me when it's hitting such hard bumps though.

So not a question as such, just a suggestion and comment that for someone like me the words "impact" and "thump" along with "737" would go a long way to make me feel better. Rather than "steadily increased the pressure on a 777 wing" which doesn't do much for me at all ;o)

Thank you for the site. As you can probably guess, I went online to do a search after an especially bumpy flight skirting around some tropical thunderstorms!

Kind regards,

(A UK expat who has to fly every 3 months for his visa renewal - and hates it every time.)

Hi Alan,

The analogy you used on the strength of a piece of three feet and twenty feet wood may be a little flawed when made in the context of the structure of a Boeing 737 when compared to the Boeing 777. In truth, the Boeing 777 (about 209 to 242 feet long - depending on the variant) is only about twice as long as the Boeing 737 (94 to 138 feet long depending on the variant) and not seven times! Whatever it is, you have made the point that bigger may be weaker.

Is it necessary so? Remember, human beings are smart and building mega objects to withstand whatever forces are precisely calculated by the structural engineers. I often refer to the Boeing 777 Wing Ultimate Load Test video (the engineers needed to know if the Triple 7 wings could survive the strongest forces that turbulence or bad handling could produce..." - sorry this YouTube video is no longer available - but try this link) to explain how strong the wings are because my site first started as one that was devoted to this plane. This is, so far, the safest plane around and the one that I had most experience on. So naturally, most of the time, I prefer to mention this plane.

So if a Boeing 777 can take the beating, a smaller Boeing 737 could have done even better as you have felt so!

I tried my best to use simple layman terms, but sometimes, out of expediency, words get a little technical.

Nice to hear that you benefited from visiting my site! Smile


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Thanks again
Hi, thanks for the speedy response.

I wasn't referring to the 737 as a little aircraft, more the Cessnas and such. I'm just as nervous in a 737 as a 747 or 777 or whatever. Any overly large thin-skinned aluminium thing weighing many tons and carrying a crowd of people that powers into the air, basically.

Knowing that people can be thrown around and hurt without hurting the aircraft is reassuring though. smilies/smiley.gif

I'll just stay tightly buckled and imagine I'm on a coach on a rough road or something. I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to my next flight but I do feel better, thanks :grin
Alan , 18 Jun, 2008
Yea, this was one of my primary concerns. I remember a video I saw on YouTube of some water dropping plane, I think in California, whose wings just collapsed. The plane looked like it was built in 1920, so that may've played a part.
Derek , 18 May, 2009

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