Ask Your Pilot

How does a pilot drive the airplane on the ground?

Mickie B’s question answered:

Like in your car the engines thrust the airplane into motion, by increasing power with the throttles (like the gas pedal in your car).

For straight ahead or small few degrees changes in direction, the rudder pedals are used. Want to turn slightly to the left? Press the left pedal. To the right? Press the right pedal. 

Rudder pedals on a commercial airliner
Rudder pedals on a Boeing 737

To break, slow down the speed, or to stop the airplane: Press the TOP of the rudder pedals, which also work as a brake pedal.

For sharper turns, the rudder pedals won’t do. The rudder pedals are not capable of performing a tighter turning radius. For that, the pilot grabs the “tiller” on the side panel by the window. 

Boeing 757 tiller
Boeing 757 tiller.
To the left of the tiller: hand-held microphone.

With a tight grip on the tiller handle, you turn the tiller into the direction you want to turn. 

The rudder pedals and the tiller both control the nose wheel steering mechanism on the ground.

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Airport taxiways

Airports have taxiways like a car has roads. To get from point A to point B you “stay on the designated roads”.

One difference from driving your car is that you don’t taxi an airplane by staying on the right (or left) side of the road.

An airplane taxis by keeping the nosewheel on the centerline of the taxiway.

Because an airplane is long the pilot has to think like a trucker when he or she is making a turn. To avoid overshooting or undershooting the turn you have to negotiate each turn you make. This is especially true for sharp turns and longer airplanes.

For instance, a Boeing 737: Its earlier models are a relatively short airplane. Thus, when you taxi a shorter airplane the sharp turn negotiations are not as critical as when you are going to turn a long airplane, such as the Boeing 777.

airplane taxi lineup at LAX
Extreme caution must be exercised at all times for total safety while taxiing an airplane.

Starting airplane taxi

When you first put the airplane in motion it’s important to exercise extreme caution for everything around you.

Applying thrust (gas), you create a blast behind each engine. People, equipment, and anything else in the way can be injured or damaged from the jet blast.

The areas in the front of each engine is another super-critical factor that must be carefully negotiated before you apply power to the engines.

The immediate area in the front of a jet engine creates an area where people and equipment can be sucked into the engine if anything is too close to the intake.

How do you manage to stay safe during taxiing?

Complete and continuous safety is the result of a methodical cautionary vigilance involving anyone close to the airplane at all times.

Of course, that starts inside the airplane, with the pilot (or mechanic taxiing the airplane for maintenance).

Responsibilities extend to all ramp or ground personnel, vehicles on the ground, and to the air traffic ground controller, as well as other pilots, taxiing mechanics, and planes in the vicinity of your aircraft.

Could you taxi a big jetliner?

You’ll probably say that’s a stupid question unless you were trained to taxi a big jet. Regardless, let your thoughts be known below.

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